Chimpanzees

Chimpanzees are our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, genetically speaking. We share between 95 and 98 percent of DNA with them. Like us, they use tools to achieve their goals, laugh with one another and form social groups. Even though we've been studying them for decades, we're constantly learning new things about them, much in the same way we learn new things about ourselves. Here are several things we've recently learned about chimpanzees that reinforce just how similar we are

1. Chimps and humans may share an ancient body language. A 2018 PLOS Biology study analyzed gestures made by both chimpanzees and bonobos — closely related members of the great ape family — and found a 90 percent overlap, far more than would have been possible by chance. These gestures included flinging hands to shoo another ape away or stroking the mouth of another ape to indicate the ape wanted the other animal's food. Interestingly, humans are able to understand what many of these gestures mean as well, indicating that perhaps the gestures were used by our last common ancestor.

Another study supported this finding and showed that toddlers between the ages of 12 months and 24 months share nearly 90 percent of gestures such as jumping, hugging, stomping and throwing objects. Additionally, chimpanzees have been observed using 58 different gestures to communicate with each other. A team of international researchers studied video footage of wild chimpanzees at Uganda's Budongo Forest Reserve and recorded 2,000 examples of these gestures. Commonly-used gestures represented short phrases and meanings, while longer gestures were broken up into smaller gestures similar to how the human language has longer words that are comprised of multiple syllables.

2. Chimps warn their friends of danger. Chimps live in dangerous spaces, but fortunately they have each other's backs. Warning of danger isn't uncommon within chimp groups, but a 2014 Science Advances study found that chimps will adjust their warnings based on the information they perceive other chimps have about the threat. Chimps will make alarming vocalizations and gaze at a threat and then back at their group until other chimps see the threat. If they believe another chimp is unaware, their vocalizations and gestures become more urgent. Additionally, the study found that chimps will give more warnings about threats to chimps who are relatives or friends.

3. Chimps will wage war. In 1974, Jane Goodall observed a splintering between a group of apes in Tanzania's Gombe Stream National Park. Once a unified group, they split into northern and southern subgroups, and friendliness turned to violence. (Later research indicated that the split actually started in 1971 but came to a head in '74.) Over the next four years, the chimps fought over territory and deliberately killed one another, including an ambush of six chimps against one. While one group ended up victorious, their expanded territory pushed against the range of a third chimp group, prolonging the conflict. Goodall was shocked by the violence, and her reports were initially dismissed by some.

4. Chimps follow fashion trends. Social learning is common in chimps. They learn to make tools from one another, for instance, but they also pick up fashion tips. In 2010, a Zambian chimpanzee named Julie stuck a stalk of grass in her ear for reasons that no one has been able to ascertain. The rest of her group followed suit. This behavior was reported in a 2014 study published in Animal Cognition, but the researchers still couldn't figure out the purpose of the ear grass accessory beyond that it just looked cool.

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