The amazing emotional intelligence of our primate cousins[/
b][b]Gorillas cooperating to dismantle poachers's snares, altruistic, food sharing chimpanzees, grieving lemurs performing death rituals ... Danielle Radin finds an extraordinary emotional depth and capacity for empathy in our fellow primates.
These new findings suggest a level of empathy and social welfare amongst primates never before studied.
In the wild, gorillas are turning into primitive engineers as the newest field findings show that some of these large primates have taught themselves how to dismantle poaching traps in Africa.
"It's just amazing", says Dr. Patricia Wright, a Primatologist at Stony Brook University in New York with over 27 years anthopological experience.
"One of the most extraordinary things that has just happened is that very young gorillas, that are just four years old, have started to take apart traps and snares so that poachers can't catch gorillas."
In Rwanda, four young gorillas were seen disabling a poachers' snare intended to kill gorillas and other animals. These gorillas sprung into action after the same snare killed an elderly gorilla.Cognition, and empathy
Adult gorillas have been seen destroying snares and poaching traps in the past, but scientists have never seen this kind of activity in gorillas at such a young age. This sighting suggests not only unexpected cognitive skill but also a level of empathy for other animals.
While the gorillas could choose to simply avoid the snare grounds, they instead decide to work together to disable them so that other gorillas and animals are not hurt and killed.
Within the world of primatologists and researchers, primate empathy has been a matter of discussion for years. These new findings suggest a level of empathy and social welfare amongst primates never before studied.
The young gorillas dismantling the snares will most likely teach their offspring how to destroy traps as well. Primates, such as gorillas and chimpanzees, are known for teaching their young how to use different tools.Chimpanzee altruists
"Young monkeys learn to use stones as tools to crack open the nuts they want to eat, which is something that the adults in their groups do", says Dorothy Fragaszy, Professor of Psychology at the University of Georgia and director of the Primate Behavior Laboratory.
"Social context helps the young monkeys to learn skills through the ways that others engineer the environment so that the young monkeys are able to learn.
"There are socially provided elements in the environment to help the young individual to be facilitated to perform the right actions and to practice this skill."
In an experiment at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center it was recently confirmed that chimpanzees exhibit pro-social behavior. Two chimps separated by a mesh fence were given the option to share food with the other chimp, or get the food just for themselves.
More than half the time both chimpanzees acted altruistically, sharing their food with the other. This confirms that they are aware of the social welfare of other chimpanzees - a fact that researchers only speculated about before but has now been confirmed.Social and compassionate beings
"Chimpanzees engage in a behavior called reassurance when other chimpanzees are stressed. They offer comfort the same way that a human shows comfort", says Mary Lee Jensvold, director of the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute at Central Washington University.
Chimpanzees have also been known to show empathy for other species such as humans. The famous chimpanzee, Washoe, the first non-human we could communicate with, understand and speak approximately 350 words of American sign language before her death in 2007.
When one of her caretakers had a miscarriage she told Washoe. Washoe looked her in the eyes and signed "cry" running a finger down her caretaker's cheek. This kind of emotional depth shows the extent of primate mental capability.