ISU researcher observes chimps hunting with tools

Kyndal Reimer

Female chimpanzees at the research site at Fongoli are bending gender-based stereotypes with their newly developed hunting habits. While the male chimpanzees have traditionally been the hunters, the females have been stepping up to the plate.

In addition to the new stereotype-bending trend, the chimpanzees have started utilizing tools to do their hunting. Traditionally, hunting has been done by hand.

Jill Pruetz, an anthropology professor at Iowa State and an emerging explorer for National Geographic, started studying the Fongoli chimps in April of 2001. In 2007, she and her small team of Senegalese assistants and college students noticed the change in hunting techniques and roles.

“Females are usually not seen as hunters, especially among chimps,” Pruetz said. “The chimps make spear-like hunting tools of live branches a few feet long that they modify by removing leaves and side branches as well as trimming the end in many cases.”

According to National Geographic, the chimpanzees mainly use their spears to hunt bush babies that are hiding in holes in trees. However, they also use smaller tools to hunt for fish and driver ants.

This phenomenon is changing how the world looks at stereotypical sex roles in chimps, Pruetz said. It has changed how we declare ourselves the only creature that can hunt with tools.

Driven by her passion and curiosity, Pruetz has spent her time emerged in the company of the chimpanzees at her research site in Fongoli.

Her day typically begins between 3:30 and 5:30 a.m. and lasts until 8 to 10 p.m. For 13 hours, she follows a community of 32 chimpanzees around and collects data until they construct their nests for the evening. She eats, showers, goes to bed and repeats it all the next day.

“Pruetz is the first to successfully habituate Savanna chimps in this unique habitat [in Fongoli],” according to the National Geographic.

One curious factor in this new discovery is that this new trend is predominantly being used by the chimps in Fongoli and nowhere else.

“The Fongoli site is too hot and dry for the species that chimps in forests have access to, so Fongoli chimps are limited in terms of prey availability. Therefore, they adjust to the circumstances,” Pruetz said.

Pruetz plans to continue to study the hunting habits of the chimpanzees, as well as the meat-sharing habits of the males versus the females. She also hopes to be able to bring ISU students to her site as an educational course that gives students a chance for some hands-on experience with the chimpanzees.