Wild chimps in Senegal have near human understanding of fire

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Washington, December 23 (ANI): A new study has found that savanna chimpanzees in Senegal have a near human understanding of wildfires and change their behavior in anticipation of the fire's movement.

Iowa State University anthropologist Jill Pruetz and Thomas LaDuke, an associate professor of biological sciences at East Stroudsburg University carried out the study.

Data on the chimps' behavior with seasonal fires was collected by Pruetz during two specific encounters in March and April 2006.

She reports that wildfires are set yearly by humans for land clearing and hunting, and most areas within the chimpanzees' home range experience burning to some degree.

The researchers found that the wild chimps have calm understanding of wildfires.

They interpret the chimpanzees' behavior to the wildfires as being predictive, rather than responsive, in that they showed no signals of stress or fear - other than avoiding the fire as it approached them.

"It was the end of the dry season, so the fires burn so hot and burn up trees really fast, and they (the chimps) were so calm about it," said Pruetz.

"They (the chimps) were experts at predicting where it was going to go," she added.

In their research paper, the scientists wrote that the control of fire by humans involves the acquisition of these three cognitive stages, namely, the conceptualization of fire, the ability to control fire, and the ability to start a fire.

According to Pruetz, the Fongoli chimpanzees have mastered the first stage, which is the prerequisite to the other two.

But, she doesn't see them figuring out how to start a fire anytime soon - at least, not without help.

"I think they could learn. It might be difficult only because of their dexterity, since they're less dexterous than us," she said. "But naturally, I can't ever see them making fire. I think cognitively they are able to control it," she added.

Yet they are very aware of fire and its power.

In fact, Pruetz reports that the chimps have developed a unique "fire dance."

According to Pruetz, chimps everywhere have what is called a 'rain dance', which is just a big male display to show dominance.

"Males display all the time for a number of different reasons, but when there's a big thunderstorm approaching, they do this real exaggerated display - it's almost like slow motion. And when I was with this one party of chimps, the dominant male did the same sort of thing, but it was towards the fire, so I call it the fire dance," she said. (ANI)

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