The chimpanzees I don’t only know heal their wounds but also that of othersas verified for the first time by a group of researchers, who consider it proof that they are capable of behaviors related to empathy and could be a potential case of medication, with the use of insects.
The scientists of Ozouga Chimpanzee Projectin Gabon, have spent seven years studying a group of these animals in the Loango National Park and they publish this discovery this Monday in the journal ‘Current Biology’.
The first time they observed this behavior was in 2019, when a chimpanzee named suzee inspected a wound on the foot of his teenage son, after which he picked up an insect in the air, put it in his mouth and applied it to the damaged area.
“You can see in the video that Suzee first looks at her son’s foot, and then it’s like she’s like, ‘What could I do?’ and then she looks up, sees the insect and catches it for her child, “said one of the authors of the study Alessandra Mascarowho recorded the images.
The scientists consider that this behavior of healing the wounds of other specimens is “proof that chimpanzees have the ability to carry out prosocial behaviors that have been linked to empathy in humans.
76 cases in 15 months
The team began monitoring the chimpanzees for this type of wound-care behavior and over the next 15 months documented 76 cases in which the group applied insects to the wounds of themselves and others.
On one occasion, an adult male, Littlegreyhad a deep open wound on his shin and Carol, an adult female, who had been grooming him, suddenly reached out to pick up an insect, Lara Southern said.
“What struck me most was that she gave it to Littlegrey, he applied it to the wound, and then Carol and two other adult chimpanzees also touched the wound and moved the insect over it. The three unrelated chimpanzees seemed to perform these behaviors solely for the benefit of their group member”
“For the benefit of others”
Applying an insect to the wounds of another is “a clear example of prosocial behavior, that is, behavior that acts for the benefit of others” not just oneself, said Simone Pika of the University of Osnabrück. “Suddenly we have a species where we really see individuals who care about each other.”
This is not the first time that non-human animals have been observed to self-medicate. Our two closest living relatives, chimpanzees and bonobos, swallow leaves of plants with anthelmintic properties and chew other bitters that kill intestinal parasites, what is striking is that they have never been seen to do so with the others.
In addition, the external application of animal matter to open wounds has never been documented. The team now wants to investigate “the possible beneficial consequences of such surprising behavior,” said the primatologist. Tobias Deschner.
what kind of insects
Now, scientists are going to identify which insects they use and document who applies it to whom. “Studying great apes in their natural environments is crucial to shedding light on our own cognitive evolution,” Pika said.
“Our study shows that there is still much to explore and discover about our closest living relatives, and therefore we must continue to do much more to protect them in their natural habitat,” Deschner said.