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Humans are wiping out chimpanzee cultures

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Older group members demonstrate important behaviors for younger chimpanzees

By Gretchen Vogel

When chimpanzees encounter humans, it’s usually bad news for the chimps. Logging, hunting, and epidemics have helped push chimpanzee populations to the brink across their range in West and Central Africa. Now, a new study suggests human activity may also rob chimp populations of their cultures.

Chimpanzees perform distinct behaviors, such as using tools to crack nuts or collect termites, that are passed on from one generation to the next, like human culture. These behaviors include adaptations that can be crucial for the animals’ survival—but chimp groups living near people have fewer such behaviors, according to the study. The authors say “chimpanzee cultural heritage sites” may be needed to protect key behaviors. “A lot of conservation effort is focused on species diversity and genetic diversity, but we need to look at cultural diversity as well,” says Hjalmar Kühl, a primatologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, who helped lead the study.

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Nearly 2 decades ago, primatologist Carel van Schaik, an emeritus professor at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, proposed that human impacts like habitat destruction and poaching could wipe out key behaviors in great apes.  (Van Schaik studied cultural behaviors in orangutans.) For example, a population may lose important traditions when a key resource it involved—like kola nuts—becomes scarce, or when fewer experienced group members are alive to pass on the behavior. But it has been hard to collect enough data to test the hypothesis.

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Published By-
Balani Infotech
www.balaniinfotech.com

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