Gorillas tool up in the wild

When in doubt, poke it with a stick

Scientists working in the Republic of Congo have seen gorillas using tools in the wild for the first time. The scientists recorded two separate instances of tool use., including one gorilla using a stick to test the depth of a pool before wading across.

A gorilla tests the water with a stick

Chimps and orangutans have been seen using tools in the wild, and even monkeys raised in captivity will do so, but this is the first time it has been seen in gorillas in the wild. The study has been published in the open access journal PLoS Biology.

"This is a truly astounding discovery," said Thomas Breuer of the Wildlife Conservation Society. "Tool usage in wild apes provides us with valuable insights into the evolution of our own species and the abilities of other species. Seeing it for the first time in gorillas is important on many different levels."

The researchers describe the two instances of tool use. In the first case, a female had waded into a pool of water, but quickly found herself waist deep. She went back to the edge of the pool, got a stick and used it to test the depth of the water as she proceeded across the pool.

In the second, another female used a broken off tree trunk as a support when she was digging for food. She then used the same piece of wood as a bridge over a particularly muddy patch of ground.

The researchers say that this is particularly interesting because tool use by our great ape cousins is connected with food - for example, using a stick to get at termites in a branch, or using a rock to smash a nut open. These two examples are different: the gorillas are using the sticks to support themselves, or in response to environmental factors.

You can see more pictures and read the full paper at the Public Library of Science (PLoS) here. ®

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