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Scientists Study Gorilla Who Uses Tools
GOMA, Congo - A young gorilla in a Congo sanctuary is smashing palm nuts between two rocks to extract oil, surprising and intriguing scientists who say they have much to learn about what gorillas can do — and about what it says about evolution.
It had been thought that the premeditated use of stones and sticks to accomplish a task like cracking nuts was restricted to humans and the smaller, more agile chimpanzees.
Then in late September, keepers at a Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International sanctuary in this eastern Congo city saw 2 1/2-year-old female gorilla Itebero smashing palm nuts between rocks using the "hammer and anvil" technique, considered among the most complex tool-use behaviors.
"This is a surprising finding, given what we know about tool use in gorillas," Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund primatologist Patrick Mehlman said earlier this month at his Goma office.
He said the finding indicates that complex tool use may not be a trait developed only by humans and chimpanzees and could have its origins earlier in the evolutionary chain — among ancestors common to both humans and their closest relatives, the great apes.
Gottfried Hohmann, an expert on primates at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, told The Associated Press that Itebero's behavior "means that gorillas have a higher level of understanding of their environment than we thought."