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Young females of the Kanyawara chimpanzee community in Kibale National Park, Uganda, use sticks as rudimentary dolls and care for them like the group's mother chimps tend to their real offspring. The behavior, which was very rarely observed in males, has been witnessed more than a hundred times over 14 years of study
"The stick serves no immediate function, they just carry it—sometimes for a few minutes, other times for hours," study leader Richard Wrangham, a biological anthropologist at Harvard University, said via email.
"Carriers regularly take sticks into the nests they rest in during the day, something that isn't done with other objects. Individuals are [also] known to play with their sticks while in their nests."
Love of Dolls Learned or Inherited?
The research represents the first time wild animals of different sexes have been observed playing differently with objects, a practice well known among human children and previously observed in captive vervet and rhesus monkeys, Wrangham said.
For instance, young female monkeys in captivity have been known to favor dolls as playthings, while their male counterparts prefer "boy" toys like trucks.
"The fact that captive monkey males and females prefer typically masculine and feminine human toys, respectively, suggests that there is something biologically different about the sexes that makes them gravitate to different types of toys."