Tag Archive | "chimpanzees"

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They Are Real Human-Like Attributes

Posted on 06 April 2013 by admin

A perennial question within animal research is are we projecting human attributes onto chimps and apes or is their human-like behavior natural?  The results of a review of multiple studies appeared in the journal “Animal Behavior” and declared the behavior observed was not a projection, was real, and there was no evidence of researcher bias.  These results prompted Mark Adams, PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh U.K., to state, “(Chimpanzees) have the same social problems that we do, they want to make friends and find mates and sort of gain position within their society.”

Charles Darwin famously observed, “There is no fundamental difference between man and the higher mammals in their mental faculties….The difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not of kind.”  While our first study shows that primate researchers have not biased their results, the behavior of a chimp in Sweden shows an all too human-like deviousness.

Previous research in Sweden showed a chimpanzee at the Furuvik Zoo gathered stones from his enclosure that he threw at zoo visitors.  More recent research showed evidence the chimp is even more devious.  He hides his weapons stockpiles behind rocks and logs for future use and fashions projectiles with a combination of hay, mud and feces.  He keeps these stockpiles near the viewing area so as not to be seen approaching with a projectile but rather throwing one from close up so visitors have no opportunity to retreat.

Researcher Mathias Osvath, a comparative cognitive scientist and scientific director of Lund University’s Primate Research Station, was quoted in a May 18, 2012 posting by LiveScience.com as saying “The results indicate that he (the chimp) can anticipate behaviors of others who are not present in the situation where he makes his preparations.”

Reversing the process described above, researchers often look to animal behavior in an attempt to understand why humans evolved the behaviors they exhibit.  Even though only about 5% of mammals are monogamous, there is evidence of monogamy in mammals, including Humans, where both parents are needed to raise offspring.  Recent research on owl monkeys was reviewed by NationalGeographic.com in February of 2013.  It shows that monogamous pairs produce 25% more babies than monkeys in severed pairs.

Fernandez-Duque, a biological anthropologist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, observed “Call it love, call it friendship, call it marriage – there is something in our biology that leads to this enduring, emotional bond between two individuals that is widespread among human societies.” Larry Young, a behavioral neuroscientist at Emory University in Atlanta, credits our brain chemistry in his new book entitled “The Chemistry Between Us: Love, Sex, and the Science of Attraction”.  Young states our organs “have evolved the mechanism to produce an emotional attachment.”  He believes monogamous attachments are reinforced by the production of pleasure producing oxytocin and dopamine which causes feelings of exhilaration and happiness during intimacy between animals.

All of this information once again serves only to reinforce the validity of Darwin’s earlier observation.  Chapter Six – Human Uniqueness in the author’s book Beyond Animal, Ego and Time delves further into these topics.

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Bonobos and Chimpanzees: How Close are our Closest Relatives?

Posted on 24 June 2012 by Jerry

It is difficult to be precise when comparing three different animal genomes, each with billions of base pairs, to assess similarity.  Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have however completed sequencing the DNA of a contemporary bonobo and have declared it the second great ape with which human beings share 99.6% of their DNA.  This mirrors an assessment in 2005 when researchers studied the chimpanzee genome.

This finishes sequencing of the genomes of the three most related of the great apes; the human being, chimpanzee, and the bonobo.  Their common genetic ancestry shows that human beings, chimpanzees and bonobos took separate evolutionary paths more than four million years ago, with chimpanzees and bonobos diverging from each other in a more recent timeframe of one to two million years.

What is intriguing about these findings is not the great similarity but rather the differences.  Researchers found that there is about 1.6% of human DNA that is shared with the bonobo that is not found in the chimpanzee.  Conversely, they found about the same proportion of human DNA that is shared with the chimpanzee that is not found in the bonobo. 

While chimpanzees are found throughout equatorial Africa, bonobos are only found in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  The population of bonobos was thought to be isolated from chimpanzees with the formation of the Congo River which may have physically separated the two groups more than a million years ago.

There are some notable behavioral differences between the two species.  Male chimpanzees are territorial and dominant.  The males compete aggressively for rank dominance within the group, and sex. They cooperate to defend their territory and attack other groups.  Bonobo males, on the other hand, are subordinate to the females and do not compete aggressively for dominance rank.  In addition, they are playful and show almost continual sexual behavior including with same sex partners.  They do not form alliances with each other and there is no evidence of aggression with other groups.  

Researchers would like to know if their genetic differences can explain the very different behavior of the three animals. What makes the bonobos playful, the chimpanzees aggressive, and the humans cerebral?

Background: In Beyond Animal, Ego and Time, Chapter 16 – Transcending Egocentricity argues that our outdated belief in meaningful differences between groups of human beings is persuasively contradicted by their known genetic similarities.  It states “For these reasons we have to allow perceived human differences to slip away as insignificant and inconsequential.” The results of this research further demonstrate the evolutionary ancestry of human beings and show the behavioral similarities between related species.

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NIH Moves Chimps from Chumps to Champs

Posted on 15 December 2011 by Jerry

The National Institute of Health, responding to pressure from animal rights groups, asked the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council to formulate a recommendation on continued use of chimpanzees in NIH funded invasive medical research in the U.S. Today their report was issued.  While not calling for an outright ban of the practice, the committee report signals to all involved in this type of research that they should wrap up present projects and plan to use other research methodologies in the future.

To send this signal, the committee recommended Guiding Principles that included “The animals used in the proposed research must be maintained either in ethologically appropriate physical and social environments or in natural habitats.”  Webster’s defines ethology as the scientific and objective study of animal behavior especially under natural conditions.  This principle precludes the common research facility today which keeps the chimpanzees in cages.

Another guiding principal was that “There must be no other research model by which the knowledge could be obtained, and the research cannot be ethically performed on human subjects.”  On this last point the committee looked at a number of case studies.  Other than research that is already underway where benefits would be significantly delayed, they could not find research projects that could not be performed in other acceptable ways.

Our article in August 2011, Too Sentient for Their Own Good, raised the issue of use of chimpanzees in invasive medical research in the U.S.  That article pointed out that only two countries in the world still permit this kind of research on chimpanzees, the United States of America and Gabon in Africa. The rest of the world has banned invasive experimentation with many countries not allowing chimpanzees to be used in any research i.e. the European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Sweden, New Zealand, and the Netherlands.  The article also identified that great apes (other than gorillas) are one of only three mammals, other than humans, who have sufficient intelligence to demonstrate self recognition.

We congratulate those animal rights groups that have intervened on behalf of chimpanzees and their humane treatment.  Kudos to the National Anti-Vivisection Society, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), and the Humane Society of the United States. This is clearly their victory. Kudos also deserved by GlaxoSmithKline, a drug company that has an official policy ending its use of great apes, including chimpanzees, in its research.

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