A gorilla named Efi uses a stick in the Republic of Congo's Nouabal-Ndoki National Park. (AP/ Wildlife Conservation Society, Thomas Breuer)
A man goes to Africa on a safari. While there, he comes upon an elephant, in great pain, with a giant thorn in its foot. The man very carefully approaches the elephant, and gingerly removes the thorn from its foot. The elephant begins to walk away, then turns and stares at the man for a full minute, locking eyes with him. The elephant then continues on its way. "I wonder if I ever see that elephant again if it will remember me?" the man muses to himself. It is a few years later, and the man is at a circus back in the States. He notices that one of the elephants keeps looking at him, almost like it KNOWS him. The man wonders, "Could this be that elephant I helped so long ago?" He decides to get a closer look. With the elephant still giving him the stare-down, the man moves in closer, getting right up in front of the elephant. They lock eyes. A knowing look seems to cross the elephant's face. It reaches down... picks the man up carefully with its trunk... lifts him high in the air... THROWS HIM CRASHING TO THE GROUND AND STOMPS HIM TO DEATH! Turns out it wasn't THAT elephant.
Gorillas observed using tools for first time
Two female gorillas have been photographed using sticks to get through swampy areas, the first time the apes have been seen using tools in the wild, researchers reported Thursday.
Although gorillas kept in captivity can be trained to use tools, such as utensils, there has never been a reported case of tool use by wild gorillas. And that's despite decades of field research.
"This is a truly astounding discovery," said Thomas Breuer of the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, who led the study.
"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."
Breuer's team made their observations late last year in the Republic of Congo, in a marshy clearing in NouabalDe-Ndoki National Park where monitoring has been ongoing since February 1995.
They first observed a female gorilla named Leah using a branch as a walking stick. When she tried to wade through a pool of water, she found herself waist-deep after only a few steps and climbed out. Leah then used the stick to test the depth of the water.
In the second case, they saw another female, named Efi, pull up a dead shrub. She used it to support herself with one hand while digging for herbs with the other hand. She then took the trunk and placed it on the swampy ground in front of her and used it as bridge to cross over.
Chimpanzees, bonobos and other apes have all been seen using tools in the wild -- for instance, to catch termites. But never wild gorillas.
Gorillas are often perceived as the dumber brutes of the forest that would sooner smash a termite nest rather than delicately fish out the bugs with a stick, the way crafty chimpanzees might.
But these studies suggest that gorillas are just as intelligent and chimp-like in their abilities.
The findings may help shed light on how human beings came to use tools, the researchers said. Many thought that tool use was a distinguishing characteristic of humans, but it now appears to be something primates do as well.
"Information on tool use and factors favoring tool use in wild apes helps us to understand its importance in the evolution of our own species," Breuer and his colleagues wrote.
Their report is published in the Public Library of Science Biology, an online journal.