Tool-use to obtain honey by chimpanzees at Bulindi: new record from Uganda
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Honey-gathering from bee nests has been recorded at chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) study sites across tropical Africa. Different populations employ different strategies, ranging from simple ‘smash-and grab’ raids to use of sophisticated tool-sets, i.e., two or more types of tool used sequentially in a single task. In this paper I present evidence of tool-use, and the probable use of a tool-set, for honey-gathering by unhabituated chimpanzees at Bulindi, a forest–farm mosaic south of the Budongo Forest in Uganda. Between June and December 2007, 44 stick tools were found in association with 16 holes dug in the ground, corresponding to the period when stingless bees (Meliponula sp.) appeared in chimpanzee dung. In 11 cases the confirmed target was a Meliponula ground nest. Two potential tool types were distinguished: digging sticks encrusted with soil, and more slender and/or flexible sticks largely devoid of soil that may have functioned to probe the bees’ narrow entry tubes. Reports of chimpanzees using tools to dig for honey have been largely confined to Central Africa. Honey-digging has not previously been reported for Ugandan chimpanzees. Similarly, use of a tool-set to obtain honey has thus far been described for wild chimpanzee populations only in Central Africa. Evidence strongly suggests that Bulindi chimpanzees also use sticks in predation on carpenter bee (Xylocopa sp.) nests, perhaps as probes to locate honey or to disable adult bees. These preliminary findings from Bulindi add to our understanding of chimpanzee technological and cultural variation. However, unprotected forests at Bulindi and elsewhere in the region are currently severely threatened by commercial logging and clearance for farming. Populations with potentially unique behavioral and technological repertoires are being lost.
KeywordsChimpanzee Digging Honey Meliponula Tool-use Tool-set Xylocopa
Permission to conduct the research was granted by the President’s Office, the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology, and the Uganda Wildlife Authority. Fieldwork at Bulindi was conducted with the assistance of the late Dan Balemesa, Gerald Sunday Mayanda, Tom Sabiiti, Moses Ssemahunge, and Jane Stokoe. Figure 1 is based on a vegetation map courtesy of Nadine Laporte of the Woods Hole Research Center’s Africa Program (Protected Area Watch Project) and WCS-Kampala. Insects were identified by Allan Lugoloobi of the National Agricultural Research Organisation, Kampala, and by Barry Bolton and David Notton at the Department of Entomology, The Natural History Museum, London. The author’s research was funded by an ESRC/NERC interdisciplinary studentship and a Leverhulme Trust award (Project reference: F/00 382/F) to Catherine Hill and Katherine Homewood. The manuscript was greatly improved by comments from Cleve Hicks, Thibaud Gruber, David Watts, and Richard Wrangham.
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