Hand-clapping as a communicative gesture by wild female swamp gorillas


Hand-clapping is a form of gestural communication commonly observed in captive great apes yet only isolated instances of this behaviour have been documented in the wild. Nearly 20 years ago Fay recorded the first observations of hand-clapping in western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) in the Central African Republic. Here we present observations of Likouala swamp gorillas using hand-clapping as a form of gestural communication in previously undocumented contexts in the wild. We observed hand-clapping on four different occasions in four different groups. The hand-clap was always exhibited by an adult female and always consisted of two consecutive claps conducted in front of the body. We suggest the functional significance of the behaviour was to maintain and enforce group cohesiveness during instances of alarm. These observations suggest western lowland gorillas have a means of communicating that is thus far absent in their eastern counterparts (Gorilla beringei ssp.). This could be a gestural culture found only in western lowland gorillas which should be investigated further to shed light on the evolution of communication among hominoids.

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We thank the Ministère de l’Économie Forestière of the Republic of Congo, for permission to work in the country, and the Wildlife Conservation Society—Congo Program, for organizing permits and logistics. Special thanks to the staff of Lac Télé Community Reserve for supporting this research, specifically Dr Felin Twagirashyaka and Vostin Gaiko, Faustin Otto, Fortune Iyenguet, Bola Madzoke and the rest of the WCS-LTCR team. We also thank the village of Impongui for welcoming us and allowing us to conduct research in their forest. In addition, A.K would like to especially thank Bola Madzoke for professional assistance in the field and Drs Anna Nekaris, Simon Bearder, Corri Waitt, and Amanda Webber for their support and encouragement. This manuscript was greatly improved by suggestions from three anonymous reviewers.

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Correspondence to Ammie K. Kalan.

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Kalan, A.K., Rainey, H.J. Hand-clapping as a communicative gesture by wild female swamp gorillas. Primates 50, 273–275 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10329-009-0130-9

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  • Hand-clapping
  • Lac Télé
  • Non-verbal communication
  • Western gorilla