Drone-Swatting Chimp’s Moves More Calculated Than We Thought

posted: 09/04/15
by: Danny Clemens

An enterprising chimpanzee caught the world's attention earlier this year when she swatted a camera-mounted drone out of the sky as it buzzed past though her habitat in Royal Burgers' Zoo in the Netherlands:

As it turns out, the chimpanzee's attack wasn't a random act, but rather a deliberate, planned response to a perceived threat.

In a newly published study, researchers reveal that the drone had recently completed a test pass through the chimpanzee habitat. At first sight of the drone, the chimpanzees collected willow twigs from the ground and ascended up scaffolding to the drone's level, preparing to incapacitate the airborne interloper (and, predictably, succeeding):

Closer analysis of the video footage revealed that the chimpanzee's face showed no signs of fear during her attack on the drone.

"This suggests that she quite deliberately and forcefully struck at the drone, rather than fearfully or reflexively," James van Hooff and Bas Lukkenaar write in a statement.

van Hooff and Lukkenaar also note that, although the chimpanzees had never been explicitly taught how to use tools, they had observed zoo staff using hand tools on numerous occasions. As they taught themselves how to use the tools, the chimpanzees began to show preference, associating certain tools with specific activities.

"This episode adds to the indications that chimpanzees engage in forward planning of tool-use acts," Lukkenaar explains.

van Hooff and Lukkenaar's research is published in the journal Primates.


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