E-VOLUTION, 2:2, Feb. 1998
BONOBO TRAIL MARKERS?
RESEARCHER Sue Savage-Rumbaugh of Georgia State University told an audience
at the national meeting of the Association for the Advancement of Science
that Congolese bonobos (Pan paniscus) use complex trail markers to
communicate in their tropical forest habitat. She reported having observed
bonobos crushing vegetation or stripping leaves off branches to place them
on the ground where two trails intersected. Savage-Rumbaugh said it was
clear that the lead group was leaving markers for selected trails for those
who followed behind. During the day bonobo bands that can number more than
100 disperse into small traveling parties moving silently for miles to
avoid predators. At night the band regroups to sleep. In muddy areas,
according to Savage-Rumbaugh, where footprints were obvious, no plants were
disturbed. When a tree trunk crossed the path, there were smashed plants in
front and behind. If plants were disturbed only in front of the trunk, the
animals then walked on top of the trunk, following it to another trail.
When all members of the group traveled together, no trail markings were
observed by researchers. To prove her point Savage-Rumbaugh followed the
trails herself, using only the markers left by the bonobos. Twice she was
easily able to find her way to the reassembled bands sleeping nests.
Savage- Rumbaugh's discovery, and recent work done at Columbia University
concerning the similarities in the planum temporale between chimpanzees and
humans, runs contrary to the long held position of many researchers that
great apes lack the brain structures for symbolic language and complex
communication. "The evidence is there. We have only to look at it," Savage
-Rumbaugh told those at the AAAS meeting.
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Foundation, Fall and Flood