Primate Culture Essay

1702 words - 7 pages

It has been believed that culture is unique to humans and no other groups of animals have culture, but recent evidence refutes this ideology. Before getting into the meat of the argument, it is important to first address the issues regarding the ambiguity of the term, “culture.” What is culture? Many scientists may argue that culture is the way of life for a group of individuals, this definition includes the values, beliefs and traditions of the group (Sapolsky, 2006). Other scientists may argue that culture is the transmission of habits and information by social means (Sapolsky, 2006). Despite the different specifics of what culture is, almost all scientists would agree that culture is transmitted socially through social learning that promotes the transfer of information between members in a group (Boesch and Tomasello, 1998). Based on these notions of culture, it can be justifiably stated that primates have culture. Primates exhibit food preparation techniques, use of tools, communication skills, and most importantly, behaviors of social learning. An exemplar of primates’ capabilities for culture is Koko, the lowland gorilla. Koko, in captivity, was able to learn American sign language, demonstrate self-awareness and the ability to deceive.
Food preparation is a feature of culture that can be seen amongst humans and primates. Humans prepare their food by cooking it as this helps with easier digestion and extraction of nutrients from the food. Although primates do not cook their food, Japanese macaque monkeys have been observed to wash potatoes that are covered with sand prior to eating the potatoes (Boesch, 2003). This behavior not only displays culture amongst the macaque monkeys, it also
shows that they have the cognitive ability to distinguish food particles from those of sand (Sapolsky, 2006).
The manipulation and use of tool is a vital feature of culture, and primates have exhibited this behavior long before humans have evolved. Chimpanzees are known to engage in what is called, “nut cracking,” in which two stones are used in a hammer and anvil technique (Boesch and Tomasello, 1998). They also engage in termite fishing, where they use a stick to retrieve termites from termite holes (Boesch and Tomasello, 1998). Chimpanzees are not the only primates to manifest tool use. Orangutans also use sticks to extract insects and seeds (Perry, 2006). Capuchin monkeys, similar to chimpanzees, perform nut cracking using the hammer and anvil technique (Perry, 2006).
It has long been believed that communication skills are limited to humans due to their higher levels of intelligence. However, this old ideology has been falsified. It has been observed amongst primates to use communication skills such as, vocal signals, in the detection of predators (Sapolsky, 2006). What makes these vocal signals unique is that there is not just one universal signal for every predator, but rather, each predator has its own unique signal. Once the signal is given,...

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