By Danielle Radin
In the wild, gorillas are turning into primitive engineers as the newest field findings show that some of these large primates have taught themselves how to dismantle poaching traps in Africa.
"It's just amazing", says Dr. Patricia Wright, a Primatologist at Stony Brook University in New York with over 27 years anthropological experience.
"One of the most extraordinary things that has just happened is that very young gorillas, that are just four years old, have started to take apart traps and snares so that poachers can't catch gorillas."
In Rwanda, four young gorillas were seen disabling a poachers' snare intended to kill gorillas and other animals. These gorillas sprung into action after the same snare killed an elderly gorilla.
Cognition, and empathy
Adult gorillas have been seen destroying snares and poaching traps in the past, but scientists have never seen this kind of activity in gorillas at such a young age. This sighting suggests not only unexpected cognitive skill but also a level of empathy for other animals.
While the gorillas could choose to simply avoid the snare grounds, they instead decide to work together to disable them so that other gorillas and animals are not hurt and killed.
Within the world of primatologists and researchers, primate empathy has been a matter of discussion for years. These new findings suggest a level of empathy and social welfare amongst primates never before studied.
The young gorillas dismantling the snares will most likely teach their offspring how to destroy traps as well. Primates, such as gorillas and chimpanzees, are known for teaching their young how to use different tools.
"Young monkeys learn to use stones as tools to crack open the nuts they want to eat, which is something that the adults in their groups do", says Dorothy Fragaszy, Professor of Psychology at the University of Georgia and director of the Primate Behavior Laboratory.
"Social context helps the young monkeys to learn skills through the ways that others engineer the environment so that the young monkeys are able to learn.
"There are socially provided elements in the environment to help the young individual to be facilitated to perform the right actions and to practice this skill."