Fossil ape discovery in Kenya


Kenyan fossil hunter John Ekusi found the fossil ape infant skull jutting from the Turkana Basin’s rocky terrain. Isaiah Nengo, photo by Christopher Kiarie

From Science:

Ancient infant ape skull sheds light on the ancestor of all humans and living apes

By Michael Price

Aug. 9, 2017, 1:00 PM

Anthropologists have waited decades to find the complete cranium of a Miocene ape from Africa—one that lived in the hazy period before the human lineage split off from the common ancestors we share with chimpanzees some 7 million years ago. Now, scientists in Kenya have found their prize at last: an almost perfectly preserved skull roughly the size of a baseball. The catch? It’s from an infant. That means that although it can give scientists a rough idea of what the common ancestor to all living apes and humans would have looked like, drawing other meaningful conclusions could be challenging.

“This is the sort of thing that the fossil record loves to do to us,” says James Rossie, a biological anthropologist at the State University of New York in Stony Brook who wasn’t involved with the study. “The problem is that we learn from fossils by comparing them to others. When there are no other infant Miocene ape skulls to which to make those comparisons, your hands are tied.”

The remarkably complete skull was discovered in the Turkana Basin of northern Kenya 3 years ago. As the sun sank behind the Napudet Hills west of Lake Turkana, primate paleontologist Isaiah Nengo of De Anza College in Cupertino, California, and his team started walking back to their jeep. Kenyan fossil hunter John Ekusi raced ahead to smoke a cigarette. Suddenly he began circling in place. When Nengo caught up, he saw a dirt-clogged eye socket staring up at him. “There was this skull just sticking out of the ground,” Nengo recalls. “It was incredible because we had been going up and down that path for weeks and never noticed it.”

The young ape was about 16 months old when it died. Nyanzapithecus alesi is the name of this new species.

‘Bonobos, not chimpanzees, closest human relatives’


This 2016 video is about bonobos.

From George Washington University in the USA:

Bonobos may be better representation of last common ancestor with humans than chimps

Study examined muscles of bonobos and found they are more closely related to humans than common chimpanzees

April 29, 2017

Summary: A new study examining the muscular system of bonobos provides firsthand evidence that the rare great ape species may be more closely linked, anatomically, to human ancestors than common chimpanzees.

A new study examining the muscular system of bonobos provides firsthand evidence that the rare great ape species may be more closely linked, anatomically, to human ancestors than common chimpanzees. Previous research suggested this theory at the molecular level, but this is the first study to compare in detail the anatomy of the three species.

Bonobo muscles have changed least, which means they are the closest we can get to having a ‘living’ ancestor,” said Bernard Wood, professor of human origins at the GW Center for the Advanced Study of Human Paleobiology.

Scientists believe that modern human and common chimpanzee/bonobo lineages split about 8 million years ago with the two great ape species splitting about 2 million years ago. As common chimpanzees and bonobos evolved after their split, they developed different traits and physical characteristics, even though they remained geographically relatively close, with their main division being the Congo River. Because of this, researchers have been curious as to what those differences are and how they compare to humans. By studying the muscles of bonobos (which indicates how they physically function), the team was able to discover that they are more closely related to human anatomy than common chimpanzees, in the sense that their muscles have changed less than they have in common chimpanzees.

Earlier studies examined the DNA similarities and differences between bonobos and common chimpanzees, but this was the first study to compare the muscles of the three species.

“In addition, our study has shown that there is a mosaic evolution of the three species, in the sense that some features are shared by humans and bonobos, others by humans and common chimpanzees, and still others by the two ape species,” said Rui Diogo, lead author of the paper and associate professor of anatomy at Howard University. “Such a mosaic anatomical evolution may well be related to the somewhat similar molecular mosaic evolution between the three species revealed by previous genetic studies: each of the chimpanzees species share about 3 percent of genetic traits with humans that are not present in the other chimpanzee species.”

The researchers led a team that examined seven bonobos from the Antwerp Zoo that had died and were being preserved. Researchers said this was an extremely rare opportunity given bonobos’ status as an endangered species.

The scientists note that having a clear understanding of what makes humans different from our closest living relatives might lead to new breakthroughs or understandings of human health.

Chimpanzees learn rock-paper-scissors. New study shows that chimps’ ability to learn simple circular relationships is on a par with that of 4-year-old children: here.

Apes can read minds


This video says about itself:

Testing whether apes can read minds

6 October 2016

In three trials from a new study, apes are shown at upper left watching trials in which an experimenter wearing a gorilla outfit steals a stone from a person behind a mesh screen and then hides the stone under one of two boxes or runs away with it. Red circles denote where each ape is looking during experiments. Looking patterns indicate to researchers that the apes understood when the person held false beliefs about where to find the stone.

Video: C. Krupenye, Fumihiro Kana, MPI-EVA, Kumamoto Sanctuary

From Science News about this:

Chimps, other apes take mind reading to humanlike level

Eye-tracking data shows animals can anticipate a person’s thoughts, actions

By Bruce Bower

2:10pm, October 6, 2016

Apes understand what others believe to be true. What’s more, they realize that those beliefs can be wrong, researchers say. To make this discovery, researchers devised experiments involving a concealed, gorilla-suited person or a squirreled-away rock that had been moved from their original hiding places — something the apes knew, but a person looking for King Kong or the stone didn’t.

“Apes anticipated that an individual would search for an object where he last saw it, even though the apes knew that the object was no longer there,” says evolutionary anthropologist Christopher Krupenye.

If this first-of-its-kind finding holds up, it means that chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans can understand that others’ actions sometimes reflect mistaken assumptions about reality. Apes’ grasp of others’ false beliefs roughly equals that of human 2-year-olds tested in much the same way, say Krupenye of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and his colleagues.

Considering their targeted gazes during brief experiments, apes must rapidly assess others’ beliefs about the world in wild and captive communities, the researchers propose in the October 7 Science. Understanding the concept of false beliefs helps wild and captive chimps deceive their comrades, such as hiding food from those who don’t share, Krupenye suggests.

Experiments included 41 apes — 19 chimps, 15 bonobos and seven orangutans. These animals had been born in captivity and lived in open enclosures at research centers in Germany and Japan. Apes watched two short videos designed to grab their attention. In one, a person in a King Kong gorilla suit hides in one of two haystacks while a man watches. After the man leaves through a door, King Kong runs away. Then the man returns and looks for King Kong. In a second video, a man returns for a stone that King Kong stole from him and hid in one of two boxes while the man watched. During the man’s absence, however, King Kong runs off with the stone or, in another version, moves the stone from one box to the other.

A camera equipped with an eye-tracking sensor revealed that, when the man in these videos returned, apes usually looked first at where King Kong or the stone had initially been hidden. They also spent more time looking at those initial locations than at any other spots in the videos. Those behaviors indicate that the apes assumed the man would return to those same spots based on where he had last seen what he was looking for. Of 29 animals that viewed both videos, gazes of 23 indicated that they expected the man in one or both scenarios to hold a false belief, the researchers say.

Krupenye’s team shows for the first time that a nonhuman animal can track others’ false beliefs, agrees psychologist Amanda Seed of the University of St. Andrews in Fife, Scotland. But it has yet to be demonstrated that apes, like humans, can act on such knowledge, say by hiding food from others, she adds. It’s also unclear whether, aside from knowing where an observer will look for an item, apes truly know that the object is no longer there, Seed says. Further experiments could see if apes express surprise upon seeing an observer find an item hidden in its original location after it had been moved, she suggests.

An ability to infer what others are thinking, dubbed “theory of mind” by psychologists (SN Online: 3/27/13), likely evolved in ancient ancestors of humans and apes, writes primatologist Frans de Waal of Emory University in Atlanta in the same issue of Science. Those ancestors lived in increasingly complex communities where it paid to predict accurately how others would behave, he proposes.

Yale University psychologist Laurie Santos isn’t so sure apes track false beliefs. Previous research has consistently indicated that no nonhuman animals monitor others’ beliefs, even on tasks similar to those used by Krupenye’s team, Santos says. In the new study, she adds, apes may have realized that an observer was ignorant about an object’s new location but not that he had false expectations about where to find it.

Krupenye disagrees. “The apes specifically anticipated that the actor in the video would search for an object where we humans know the actor falsely believed the object to be,” he says.

Jane Goodall visits chimpanzees in Kenya


This video from Kenya says about itself:

Conservationist Jane Goodall visits Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary

16 September 2016

British conservationist Dr Jane Goodall, known for her studies of chimpanzees in the wild, visits Kenya‘s only chimp sanctuary, urging more to be done to protect these animals.

Video by AFP Press.

The Chimpanzee Motorway – Connecting Forest Habitats in Western Tanzania: here.

Low-status chimps revealed as trendsetters. In experiments, apes were more likely to copy subordinates than alpha males. By Bruce Bower, 11:00am, February 21, 2017: here.

Saving chimpanzees in Kenya


This video from Kenya says about itself:

NTV Wild Talk S2 E10: Saving our cousins

15 September 2016

NTV’s Smriti Vidyarthi visits Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary to learn about the plight of these endangered primates and Ol Pejeta‘s efforts to save this species.

Bonobos recognize old friends’ voices


This video says about itself:

Wild Wives of Africa – Bonobo Love

1 November 2011

One species seems to have found the perfect method for keeping everyone in a state of total harmony.

By the University of St. Andrews in Scotland:

Apes Remember Voices of Old Friends

Wed, 03/30/2016 – 9:31am

Humanity’s closest living relative, the bonobo ape, can remember the voices of old friends for several years, just as people can, researchers have shown.

An international research team from the Universities of St. Andrews and Saint-Etienne in France, made the discovery after recording the calls of individual bonobos and playing them to those they had known years before.

When it was a familiar voice in the recording, the bonobos became excited and would search for the individual, while the animals gave little reaction to hearing the calls of bonobos they had never known.

The team concluded that the primates are therefore capable of remembering the voice of a former group member, even after five years of separation.

“Members of a bonobo community separate regularly into small groups for hours or even days and often use loud calls to communicate with one another. Moreover, females leave their original community but may continue to interact with their old companions in subsequent meetings between communities,” said Sumir Keenan, of the School of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of St Andrews. “So, effective social navigation depends on the ability to recognize social partners past and present.”

“It is fascinating to discover that this knowledge of familiar voices in the long term is another characteristic we share with our closest relatives,” added Keenan.

The researchers were able to use recordings of bonobos from zoos across Europe, taking advantage of the fact that some bonobos had experienced several zoos and had formed links past and present with members of their species in different places.

Mimicking the events characteristic of the arrival of a new bonobo – the scientists played the recorded bonobo calls using carefully hidden speakers.

Bonobos, like many other primate species, including human beings, form complex social networks where remembering “who is who” is important, sometimes vital. These social associations need recognition between members of the groups – usually via faces and voices. Human beings are experts when it comes to recognizing the voices of those closest to them and can recognize a voice many years after last hearing it.

The last common ancestors of bonobos, chimpanzees and humans lived 6-8 million years ago and shared numerous characteristics such as behaviors and genes.

In the natural environment, bonobos live in the Pacific Equatorial Forest in the center of Africa, where they live in large communities with complex social networks.

Old bonobos have bad eyesight — just like us, by Sarah Zielinski, 2:22pm, November 8, 2016: here.

Bonobo apes’ love life, video


This video says about itself:

Bonobo Loves Being Tickled – Animals In Love – BBC

15 January 2016

Bonobos are apes with a lot of love to give. They have an interesting matriarchal social structure which is run by females and they are very physical and good-humoured with each other.