Hand Preference for a Novel Bimanual Coordinated Task During Termite Feeding in Wild Western Gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla)

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Although the level of handedness in humans varies cross-culturally, humans are generally described as right-handed, which has been considered a uniquely human trait. Recently, captive chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) have been shown to exhibit right-hand preference when performing bimanual but not unimanual tasks. Less clear is whether this pattern also occurs in wild chimpanzees and other African apes. Using videos (N = 49) of six wild western gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) feeding on termites at the Mondika Research Center (Republic of Congo), we tested whether they exhibit hand preference when performing unimanual, i.e., reaching for termite mound pieces; bimanual, i.e., “termite tapping”: rhythmically shaking a piece of termite mound with the dominant hand and collecting the termites in the other hand tasks; or hand transfer prior to bimanual tasks, i.e., transferring a piece of termite mound from one hand to the other. All individuals exhibited exclusive hand preference when performing the bimanual tasks, with five of six gorillas preferring the right hand. Conversely, most individuals did not show any manual preference during the unimanual task. In addition, hand preference during hand transfer revealed clear hand dominance of similar strength and direction of those shown for the bimanual task, suggesting that this measure is as sensitive as the bimanual task itself. Thus, we propose “termite feeding” as a novel task to be considered in future hand-preference studies in wild western gorillas. Our results are in concordance with those for chimpanzees and captive gorillas showing hemispheric specialization for bimanual actions in apes.

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We thank the Ministere de la Économie de Forêt of Congo Republic for the permission to conduct research in the Nouabalé-Ndoki Park and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) for logistic and administrative support. We also thank The Leakey Foundation, Wildlife Direct and Richard Leakey, Primate Action Fund, Primate Conservation Inc., and Stony Brook University (URECA award grant) for providing funding for this research. We thank Julia Jenkins for her work as field assistant, the trackers of Mondika for their skills and enthusiasm in the field, and Dorothy Fragaszy for invaluable ideas on the manuscript. We also thank two anonymous reviewers and the editor Joanna M. Setchell for encouraging comments and constructive criticisms on a previous version of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Roberta Salmi.

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Salmi, R., Rahman, U. & Doran-Sheehy, D.M. Hand Preference for a Novel Bimanual Coordinated Task During Termite Feeding in Wild Western Gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla). Int J Primatol 37, 200–212 (2016).

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  • Bimanual coordinated task
  • Great apes
  • Handedness
  • Hand transfer
  • Termite tapping