Researchers: Wild gorillas seen using tools

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Saturday, October 1, 2005

A female gorilla using trunk as a stabilizer during food processing at Mbeli Bai

Wild gorillas were seen using tools, researchers for the U.S. based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) said.

Images show one female gorilla apparently using sticks to test the depth of water, another female made a bridge with a stump detached from a bush to help her cross muddy ground, and a female using a stump from a bush as support as she dug for herbs.

Thomas Breuer, of the WCS operating in the Republic of the Congo, called the discovery "truly astounding" and added that it was "quite surprising to me and my team to make this observation". Only wild chimps, orangutans, and captive gorillas were previously known to use tools, meaning that now all of the four great apes were oberserved using tools, suggesting that the usage of tools might predate the evolution of modern humans.

But, tool usage seems to be infrequent among wild gorillas. They were observed for some ten years in the Mbeli Bai area before this discovery was made.

Nevertheless, Breuer is fascinated by what he calls a "similarity" between humans and gorillas: "If you or me want to cross a swamp, we use the same solutions as gorillas."

Gorillas are an endangered species; they appear on the Red List of IUCN.