Sunday, November 14, 2010

Teaching appropriate technology to wild chimpanzees

I wrote several years ago about the idea that we could facilitate cultural transmission between chimpanzee groups. Another reason for doing that came to light earlier this fall - some chimps in Guinea have learned how to destroy wildlife snares set by poachers. These wire-loop snares set under tension can accidentally catch chimps by the hands and feet, leading to partial amputations, and some male chimps have learned to break the branch that's used to create the tension.

So the idea would be to teach other chimps hundreds of miles away the same technique. Exactly how to teach them is a little tricky. Maybe the handful of groups that are used to people can be shown a model snare and how to break it, or possibly even shown a video similar to the one at the link, showing other chimps breaking snares. The other trick is getting juvenile female chimps to learn the technique, because males stay with the group they grow up with, while females disperse to new areas and can take their knowledge with them.

I don't know, maybe it's not feasible. But just the fact that we can consider teaching chimps appropriate technology in a manner resembling the way we think human societies can be taught appropriate technology suggests that highly intelligent animals should be considered as having some kind of intrinsic moral value.

UPDATE (slightly related): a psychologist finds that human males are much less aggressive if shown pictures of meat. Chimps are somewhat similar - Jane Goodall wrote that the dominance structure breaks down in the aftermath of a successful kill by chimps that were hunting monkeys, and an otherwise-dominant male will beg for meat from a subordinate but won't attempt to take it away.

1 comment:

  1. Ask any teacher. OTOH, pizza appears to work better than meat these days


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