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Chimpanzees are capable of making spears to hunt other primates and have been seen using the weapons to apparently kill bushbabies for meat, scientists announced today.
The researchers based their findings on observations of omnivorous chimps that dwell in savannahs similar to those from which humanity's ancestors are thought to have emerged.
"It is not adult males, but young chimpanzees, including adolescent females, who are exhibiting this behavior," Jill Pruetz, a primatologist at Iowa State University, told LiveScience.
"This has important implications for how we think about the evolution of tool use in our own species," Pruetz added.
"We have tended to emphasize the role of adult males in hunting, and this research supports the assertion that we should not ignore females and other individuals."
The scientists investigated the Fongoli community of savannah-dwelling chimpanzees in southeastern Senegal.
The researchers saw 10 different chimps fashioning spear-like tools to forcibly jab at nocturnal primates known as lesser bushbabies, which sleep inside hollow branches or tree trunks during the day.
After their attacks, the chimps sniffed or licked their weapons, as if to see whether or not they shed blood.
Previously, researchers had spotted one chimpanzee using tools to flush out mammalian prey, specifically employing a branch to rouse a squirrel.
However, Pruetz and her colleague, Cambridge biological anthropologist Paco Bertolani, saw something far more complex.
The chimps routinely broke off branches, trimmed them of twigs, leaves and bark and sharpened the tips of their spears with their teeth.