uit: Iowa State University (2009, December 23). Wild chimps have near human understanding of fire. ScienceDaily.
The use and control of fire are behavioral characteristics that distinguish humans from other animals. Now, a new study by Iowa State University anthropologist Jill Pruetz reports that savanna chimpanzees in Senegal have a near human understanding of wildfires and change their behavior in anticipation of the fire's movement.
In their paper, the researchers wrote that the control of fire by humans involves the acquisition of these three cognitive stages: 1. Conceptualization of fire. An understanding of the behavior under varying conditions that would allow one to predict its movement, thus permitting activity in close proximity to the fire. 2. The ability to control fire. Involving containment, providing or depriving the fire of fuel and perhaps the ability to put it out. 3. The ability to start a fire.
According to Pruetz, the Fongoli chimpanzees have mastered the first stage, which is the prerequisite to the other two. But she doesn't see them figuring out how to start a fire anytime soon -- at least, not without help.
"I think they could learn. It might be difficult only because of their dexterity, since they're less dexterous than us," she said. "But naturally, I can't ever see them making fire. I think cognitively they are able to control it (stage 2)."
"If chimps can understand and predict the movement of fire, then maybe that's the thing that allowed some of the very earliest bipedal apes [human ancestors] to eventually be able to control fire," she said.