A team of zookeepers from the Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland has started an animal study back in 2010. The experiment involved putting a group of chimpanzees that have been raised in the Netherlands together with Scotland-based chimpanzees.
The two groups of chimpanzees had different ways of communicating their like or dislike of certain foods. Their grunting changed based on their preferences.
The group that was raised in the Netherlands liked apples very much and showed their appreciation by making high-pitched grunts. On the other hand, the group of Scottish chimpanzees did not like apples and used lower grunts to refer to the fruits.
The researchers were surprised to see that after three years of living together, the Dutch chimpanzees started to emulate the Scottish group and began referring to the apples in lower grunts than usual.
The scientists believe that the chimpanzees learned the “word” from the Scottish chimpanzees and started using it.
According to the experts in animal behavior, there are several species of primates that can communicate vocally. One of that species is the vervet monkey, which uses different alarm calls to warn its group of specific predators, like leopards and birds of prey.
Katie Slocombe, professor of evolutionary psychology at the University of York in the UK, said that the grunts of chimpanzees are somewhat similar with some human words.
The recent study on chimpanzees was published in the journal Current Biology.
But until this recent study, scientists believed that only humans have the ability to learn the names of objects from other peers.
Professor Slocombe explained that this is the first study showing that chimpanzees can change their grunts according to the environment they live in.
According to Slocombe, the chimpanzees can “choose to shift the structure of their calls” and give different grunts, when they are exposed to different social groups.
The study revealed that the chimpanzees changed the way they grunted regardless of their food preferences.
Frans de Waal, expert in primatology at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University in Atlanta, said that the study shows confirms that much of the social life of the primates is constructed culturally.
Image Source: smithsonianmag