Friday, March 31

They record a mother chimpanzee treating a wound to her son with the remains of a crushed insect

Empathy, putting yourself in the shoes of others, is often considered a purely human quality. Now, a group of researchers have managed to document empathetic behavior in chimpanzees by means of a recording. Specifically in a mother healing the wound of one of her children and using a crushed insect for it.

The odyssey of the chimpanzee Suzie, from the circus to the solitude of a farm and, finally, to a retirement among congeners

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The filming has been made in a protected area of ​​Gabon, in West Africa and the study that accompanies it is published this Monday in the magazine Current Biology.

Scientists say that this behavior of healing wounds is proof that chimpanzees have the ability to perform behaviors in favor of their societies, behaviors that have been linked to empathy in humans.

In November 2019, Alessandra Mascaro. A volunteer with the Ozouga Chimpanzee Project, she observed a chimpanzee, named Suzee, inspecting a wound on the foot of her teenage son, Sia, picking an insect out of the air, putting it in her mouth, and then applying it to the wound.

The researchers had been studying this group for seven years in the Loango National Park, but they had not witnessed behavior like this. Mascaro recorded a video of mother and child and showed it to his supervisors, Tobias Deschner, the project’s primatologist, and Simone Pika, a cognitive biologist at the University of Osnabrück.

“You can see in the video that Suzee first looks at her son’s foot, and then it’s like she’s like, ‘What could I do?’ and then she looks up and sees the bug and catches it for her son,” she says. More expensive in a press release.

Ozouga’s team began monitoring the chimpanzees for this type of wound-healing behavior, and over the next 15 months they documented 76 cases in which the group applied insects to their own and others’ wounds.

heal others

It was not the first time that non-human animals had been observed to self-medicate. Researchers have reported that bears, elephants, and bees do, too. What is striking is that, until now, applications have never been observed in insects and that chimpanzees not only treat their own wounds, but also those of others.

Simone Pika argues that the act of applying an insect to another’s wounds is a clear example of “prosocial” behavior, that is, behavior that acts for the benefit of others and not just oneself. “To me this is especially impressive because many people doubt the prosocial abilities of other animals,” he says. “Suddenly we have a species where we really see individuals who care about each other.”

Suddenly we have a species where we actually see individuals who care about each other.

Simone Pica
Biologist from the University of Osnabrück

The research team does not know exactly which insects chimpanzees use or what their medicinal properties are. “Humans use many species of insects as remedies against diseases: there are studies that show that insects can have antibiotic, antiviral and anthelminticPike says.

Researchers have also theorized that the insects might have calming properties that could ease pain.

Ozouga’s team now aims to identify the insects used by the chimpanzees and document who applies the insects to whom. “Studying great apes in their natural environments is crucial to shedding light on our own cognitive evolution,” says Deschner. “We still have to put much more effort into studying and protecting them, as well as protecting their natural habitats.”