Friday, December 18, 2009

Wild Chimps Know What Fire Is ... Kinda.

Jill Pruetz, an ISU associate professor of anthropology, has been studying savanna chimpanzees at her Fongoli research site in Senegal since 2001. Her new study documents how the chimps understand the fire they encounter in the region. Photo by Bob Elbert, ISU News Service.

A new study by Iowa State University anthropologist Jill Pruetz suggests that savanna chimps (Fongoli chimps) in Senegal have a near human understanding of wildfire and would alter their behaviors in anticipation of the wildfire's movement. Along with Thomas LaDuke, an associate professor of biological sciences at East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania, they co-authored the paper, which will be published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 2010 edition. (I will post another blog post with link to the paper once it's published).

According to Pruetz and LaDuke, humans must accomplish three cognitive stages to truly control fire. First, they must have a conceptualization of what fire is and understand its behavior. Second, they must have the ability to control fire, including the containment and manipulation of the fire. Third, they must have the ability to start a fire. The Fongoli chimps seem to have mastered the first stage, according to Pruetz. However, she does not anticipate the chimps to start fire anytime soon due to the constrains of their flexibility.

Read the rest of the article from Iowa State University here.

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