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Chimps capable of altruism, say Japan researchers

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Associated Press

Last Updated: October 17, 2009, 12:10 IST

Chimps capable of altruism, say Japan researchers

Nine chimpanzees - six of them related - were used in the experiments.

Inuyama (Aichi Prefecture): Chimpanzees are capable of human-like altruism, a group of Japanese researchers have claimed.

Kyoto University's Primate Research Institute published their findings in the scientific and medical research journal PLoS ONE on Wednesday.

The results were based on tests carried out by the Institute at a laboratory in the city of Inuyama, Aichi Prefecture, last year.

Nine chimpanzees - six of them related - were used in the experiments.

The scientists claim that the tests showed chimpanzees helping their fellow primates selflessly.

Tokyo University researcher, Shinya Yamamoto, was a member of the Kyoto team.

Yamamoto said that in some of the experiments chimps were filmed passing sticks or straws to other chimps.

The sticks were then used by the chimps to reach straws otherwise out of reach, or, in the case of the passed straw, to drink juice.

Yamamoto said the chimps were trained to use sticks to drag straws placed out of reach and to use straws to drink juice from a container.

But he claimed the transferring of the sticks or straws for other chimps to use was not trained.

The Institute reported that pairs of primates passed the items to each other 59 per cent of the time, even though the action did not benefit both of them.

Yamamoto noted that the passing of items occurred more often when a chimp appeared to make a request for the straw or stick.

In those instances, he said, transfers were made 75 per cent of the time.

"As a difference between humans and chimpanzees, it has long been considered that humans act spontaneously in an altruistic way and to build cooperative societies. But this result poses a question of such norms," Yamamoto said.

Toshikazu Hasegawa of Tokyo University, a leading Japanese scholar in animal behaviour, believes the research shows chimps and humans to be more alike than previously thought.

"Although chimpanzees and humans are almost the same animals if you look at the composition of DNA, we normally think that humans create higher social systems by helping each other ..... But the result of this experience filled the gap between two species. The results showed that Chimps also have humanity in their behaviour," Hasegawa said.

It's not the first time researchers have claimed to witness altruism in chimps.

German researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology reported similar results in 2007.
first published:October 17, 2009, 12:10 IST
last updated:October 17, 2009, 12:10 IST