How the Apes Crossed the Road
All the discussion about giving Great Apes new rights in Spain reminded me of an interesting “traffic study” of sorts that had been done involving chimpanzees — with whom we share 98% of our DNA — in Guinea.
In a fascinating report, a group of researchers set out to learn how a recently enlarged road, running through the territory of a 12-strong chimp colony, might have changed their behavior. After all, roads have been known to have had quite negative effects on wildlife. Interestingly, though, the chimps seemed to “draw on a phylogenetically-old principle of protective socio-spatial organization to produce flexible, adaptive and cooperative responses to risk.” In other words, they learned to cross the road.
As this delightful video clip shows, the chimps have a well-established routine, with alpha males acting as crossing guards of sorts, scanning both ways and herding their charges across. Apparently, the chimps are not afraid of humans but are less likely to come near the road when vehicles are present. In the short term, this is a good survival strategy (if traffic grows it’s easy to imagine problems developing for the chimps.)
When I contacted Kimberley Hockings, a researcher at the University of Stirling and one of the authors of the study, she noted that in some 30 years the researchers “had never observed any chimpanzee fatalities on the road.” On the large road, she noted, “the chimpanzees tended to cross either immediately if no vehicles or people were present, or on occasion would wait up to around 9 minutes if they perceived the degree of risk to be high.” As with human pedestrians, females tended to take fewer risks than males.
If the apes have managed this adaptation to modern circumstances (and will the Spanish charter lead to their being given rights as pedestrians), I imagine it’s only a matter of time before one of them will be able to say, a la Ratso Rizzo upon being encroached upon in the crosswalk, “hey, I’m walking here!”
This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 16th, 2008 at 2:05 pm and is filed under Pedestrians, Traffic Wonkery. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.