From the Washington Post
"Chimpanzees living in the West African savannah have been observed fashioning deadly spears from sticks and using the hand-crafted tools to hunt small mammals -- the first routine production of deadly weapons ever observed in animals other than humans.
The multi-step spear-making practice, documented by researchers in Senegal who spent years gaining the chimpanzees' trust, adds credence to the idea that human forebears fashioned similar tools millions of years ago.
The landmark observation also supports the long-debated proposition that females -- the main makers and users of spears among the Senegalese chimps -- tend to be the innovators and creative problem solvers in primate culture.
Using their hands and teeth, the chimpanzees were repeatedly seen tearing the side branches off long straight sticks, peeling back the bark and sharpening one end, the researchers report in today's on-line issue of the journal Current Biology. Then, grasping the weapon in a "power grip," they jabbed into tree-branch hollows where bush babies -- small monkey-like mammals -- sleep during the day.
After stabbing their prey repeatedly, they removed the injured or dead animal and ate it.
"It was really alarming how forceful it was," said lead researcher Jill D. Pruetz of Iowa State University in Ames, adding that it reminded her of the murderous shower scene in the Alfred Hitchcock movie "Psycho." "It was kind of scary." (...)
In a typical sequence, the animal first discovered a deep hollow suitable for bush babies, which are nocturnal and weigh about half a pound. Then the chimp would break off a nearby branch -- on average about two feet long, but up to twice that length -- trim it, sharpen it with its teeth, and poke it repeatedly into the hollow at a rate of about one or two jabs per second.
After every few jabs, the chimpanzee would sniff or lick the tip, as though testing to see if it had "caught" anything."
Though I don't really have anything to say about it, I was intrigued by the part about female chimpanzees being the more proficient tool-makers and problem-solvers:
"Adrienne Zihlman, an anthropologist at the University of California at Santa Cruz, said the work supports other evidence that female chimps are more likely to use tools than males, are more proficient tool users, and are crucial to passing that cultural knowledge to others.
"Females are the teachers," Zihlman said, noting that juvenile chimps in Senegal were repeatedly seen watching their mothers make and hunt with spears.
"They are efficient and innovative, they are problem solvers, they are curious," Zihlman said of females. And that makes sense, she said.
"They are pregnant or lactating or carrying a kid for most of their life," she said. "And they're supposed to be running around in the trees chasing prey?""
I think primatology is one of the coolest disciplines in the world. I only hope it has a chance to continue -- most primate species, chimps included, are projected to go extinct within a few decades.