Now we’re ruining the lives of our closest animal relatives.
Human activity is wreaking havoc on chimpanzee “culture,” a study suggests, as we continue to expand into what had been wild areas in central and western Africa.
Thus, humans aren’t only wiping out chimp populations, they’re also decimating the animals’ unique behavioral traditions.
Cultural behaviors drop by as much as 88 percent, the study said, for the chimps that live near humans. Study authors suggest the animals’ behavior diversity should be protected along with the species itself.
What is ‘chimp culture?’
“In one national park, chimps are known for fishing algae. In another they crack nuts or have certain hunting methods or fish for termites,” said study lead author Hjalmar Kühl, a primatologist at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. Others may throw stones.
These distinct behaviors are passed on from one generation to the next, similar to human culture, according to Science magazine.
The causes of the chimp cultural disruptions are human activities such as deforestation, habitat degradation, poaching, climate change and disease. The disruptions affect not only chimp behaviors but also the chimpanzee themselves, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society.
During the 10-year research study, which the society calls the “most complete description of chimpanzee culture to date,” scientists observed 144 chimp groups in 15 countries that are located throughout the entire geographic range of wild chimpanzees in Africa.
The authors of the study say the findings highlight the need to expand current conservation policies.
“Locations with exceptional sets of behaviors may be protected as ‘chimpanzee cultural heritage sites’ and this concept can be extended to other species with high degree of cultural variability as well, including orangutans, Capuchin monkeys or whales,” study lead author Kühl said.
Emma Stokes, the Wildlife Conservation Society’s central African director, warned that “we risk destroying these forests before even discovering what secrets they hold.”
The study appeared in the peer-reviewed journal Science.
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