Friday, December 02, 2005

Orangutan cultures and monkey accents

Two years ago, there was quite a bit of excitement when primate research revealed that orangutans have 'culture' using a very interesting set of observations and argument. You can read about it in the stories in CNN ,   Science Daily, and Scientific American.

Scientific American:

How do we know that such feats [tool making and some evidence of conscious planning] represent culture? The argument is complex, but in brief, orangutans' use of tools on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo varies geographically in ways that cannot be explained by ecological or genetic differences between populations. Instead these differences are best explained by variation in sociability, as well as by the locations of geographic barriers preventing cultural diffusion between populations.
So how do chimp and orangutan cultures differ from humans? Human culture is cumulative; great ape culture is not. Knowledge and behavior are not passed on from one generation to the next.

"I use a phone and a computer every day, taking advantage of what humans before me created," said van Schaik. "I could not have created those tools on my own," he said.

Now comes interesting news from Japanese researchers that Monkeys also have accents.