Researchers noticed chimps exhibiting empathetic behaviors.
As one of humanity’s closest relatives in the animal kingdom, the behaviors of chimpanzees are a constant source of fascinating new discoveries. Most of the time, they seem like simple animals, but occasionally, they can exhibit traits that are remarkably human.
One such instance was recently spotted at the Loango National Park in Gabon, home to a community of 45 chimps. Researchers, including primatologist Tobias Deschner and cognitive biologist Simone Pika, spotted the chimps grabbing small insects and applying them to minor scrapes and wounds in what is believed to be a form of self-medication.
“Self-medication — where individuals use plant parts or non-nutritional substances to combat pathogens or parasites — has been observed across multiple animal species including insects, reptiles, birds and mammals,” Pika said in a statement.
“Our two closest living relatives, chimpanzees and bonobos, for instance, swallow leaves of plants with anthelmintic (antiparasitic) properties and chew bitter leaves that have chemical properties to kill intestinal parasites.”
The chimps attempting to medicate themselves is interesting enough, but what makes it even more fascinating was that the chimps were seen applying their ersatz medicine to one another. This is the first documented case of chimps administering medicine to other chimps, not just themselves.
“Chimpanzees eat insects but we did not know that they catch and use them to treat their wounds,” Pika said. “Hence, they not only have an understanding of their food species (plants, insects, monkeys, birds, reptiles) but probably also about characteristics of other animal species that help to act against injuries.”
This is considered “prosocial” behavior, something which wild animals almost never exhibit. Whether this is a product of conscious empathy or not can’t be determined, but it could provide a potential insight into the natural prosocial behaviors we exhibit as humans.