Food washing and placer mining in captive great apes
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Sweet potato washing and wheat placer mining in Japanese macaques (Macaca fuscata) are among the most well known examples of local traditions in non-human animals. The functions of these behaviors and the mechanisms of acquisition and spread of these behaviors have been debated frequently. Prompted by animal caretaker reports that great apes [chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), bonobos (Pan paniscus), gorillas (Gorilla gorilla), and orangutans (Pongo abelii)] at Leipzig Zoo occasionally wash their food, we conducted a study of food washing behaviors that consisted of two parts. In the first part we assessed the current distribution of the behavior on the basis of caretaker reports. In the second (experimental) part, we provided subjects individually with a water basin and two types of food (apples and cereal) that was either clean or covered/mixed with sand. We found that subjects of all species (except gorillas) placed apples in the water before consumption, and that they did so more often when the apples were dirty than when they were clean. Several chimpanzees and orangutans also engaged in behaviors resembling wheat placer mining.
KeywordsFood washing Placer mining Tradition Great apes
We thank Pinie Zwitserlood, Claudia Menzel, Hagen Knofe, Franziska Stock, Julia Watzek, Lena Schumacher, Daniel Gergely, Maria Schmidt, Sylvia Backhaus, Julia Löpelt, Johannes Grossmann, Sebastian Schütte, Martin Gericke, Raik Pieszek, and Daniel Hanus. We thank Victoria Vonau and Johann Wirth for reliability coding. We thank all the animal caretakers at Wolfgang Köhler Primate Research Center for participation in the food washing assessment and for helping with data collection. Animal husbandry and research comply with the “EAZA Minimum Standards for the Accommodation and Care of Animals in Zoos and Aquaria”, the “WAZA Ethical Guidelines for the Conduct of Research on Animals by Zoos and Aquariums” and the “Guidelines for the Treatment of Animals in Behavioral Research and Teaching” of the Association for the Study of Animal Behavior (ASAB).
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