Aren’t bonobos the same as chimps when it comes to using tools?
No – chimpanzees fashion implements from wood and stone to crack nuts and fish for termites, while wild bonobos don’t go far beyond using leaves to keep the rain off.
Why the difference?
It’s not because the bonobos lack opportunities. As highly sociable foragers, they have every chance of learning techniques from others. And there are plenty of termite mounds around to fish from, but bonobos walk right past them. I found that bonobos are intrinsically less motivated for tool use. Young chimps spend far more time manipulating and playing with objects.
Are chimps more intelligent?
Bonobos can use tools to obtain food in captivity. But we think there’s a trade-off between social attention and motivation to use tools. Japanese researchers equipped with eye-tracking technology have just found that while bonobos focus on the socially important elements of a scene – eyes, for example – chimps are more interested in the objects others carry.
How do humans manage both?
We use tools for everything and we are socially sophisticated. Perhaps our huge brains spare us from sacrificing one skill for the other, so we can be great at both.
Find out more about bonobo behaviour in Scientific Reports.