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Gorillas are adept tool users

A study revealed that gorillas used tools like sticks even for testing the depth of a pool before wading across it.

india Updated: Sep 30, 2005 18:54 IST

While it was a known fact that some species of the great apes like chimpanzees and orangutans used some kind of tools in their daily use, gorillas were never believed to have used them for any purpose in the wild.

But, now researchers have photographed and closely studied gorillas using tools, not only while foraging for food, but also for other day to day activities aimed at overcoming environmental situations.

For the first time a study conducted by researchers from the Bronx Zoo based Wildlife Conservation Society, revealed that gorillas used tools like sticks even for testing the depth of a pool before wading across it.

The study published in the open access journal PloS Biology, revealed that on two separate occasions in Mbeli Bai--a swampy clearing located in Nouabali-Ndoki National Park, in the northern rain forests of the Republic of Congo, researchers observed and photographed individual western gorillas using sticks as tools.

In the first instance a female gorilla nicknamed Leah attempted to wade through a pool of water created by elephants, but found herself waist deep after only a few steps. Climbing out of the pool, Leah then retrieved a straight branch from a nearby dead tree and used it to test the depth of the water. Keeping her upper body above water, she moved some 10 meters out into the pool before returning to shore and her wailing infant.

In another instance, a female gorilla named Efi used a detached trunk to support herself with one hand while digging for herbs with the other. As she moved from location to location, she used the stick for one last job, a bridge over a muddy patch of ground.

Researchers further said that while gorillas have been observed using tools in zoos, this was the first time there were found doing so in the wild.

"This is a truly astounding discovery. Tool usage in wild apes provides us with valuable insights into the evolution of our own species and the abilities of other species. Seeing it for the first time in gorillas is important on many different levels," said Thomas Breuer of the Wildlife Conservation Society.

First Published: Sep 30, 2005 18:54 IST