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"I said COME HERE"...Chimps use 66 distinct gestures to communicate

Researchers in Scotland studied hours of footage of wild Ugandan chimpanzees and identified a wide repertoire of gestures. Previous studies indicated 30 gestures.

Image: Cathal McNaughton/PA Archive/Press Association Images

CHIMPANZEES COMMUNICATE WITH each other using up to 66 different gestures.

Scientists at St. Andrews University in Scotland have studied 120 hours of footage of wild chimps interacting with each other, and have concluded that the animals use a wide rage of gestures to intentionally signal to each other, reports the BBC.

Head researcher Dr. Catherine Hobaiter says that previous estimates of 30 gestures are probably attributable to the fact that the chimps were studied in captivity, meaning that all aspects of their behaviour weren’t being expressed.

The researchers, who studied the group of chimps for 266 days in Uganda, identified the 66 gestures, but have yet to figure out what most of them mean. They want to identify what response the signaller gets to a gesture, and what outcome makes them stop gesturing.

Hobaiter says that there are similarities in gestures made by chimps, gorillas and orangutans, which may indicate that they’re derived from “ancient shared ancestry of all the great ape species alive today”. Other studies have found that great apes make gestures with intentional meaning with the expectation of specific responses.

The researchers in St. Andrews had previously found that chimps may pass on learned actions and techniques to each other, rather then instinctively carrying out a task. Hobaiter says:

Copying behaviour that has no function is one of the classic characteristics of human imitation. To see that in wild chimps was incredibly exciting.

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Emer McLysaght

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