Cultures in chimpanzees

Nature. 1999 Jun 17;399(6737):682-5. doi: 10.1038/21415.


As an increasing number of field studies of chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) have achieved long-term status across Africa, differences in the behavioural repertoires described have become apparent that suggest there is significant cultural variation. Here we present a systematic synthesis of this information from the seven most long-term studies, which together have accumulated 151 years of chimpanzee observation. This comprehensive analysis reveals patterns of variation that are far more extensive than have previously been documented for any animal species except humans. We find that 39 different behaviour patterns, including tool usage, grooming and courtship behaviours, are customary or habitual in some communities but are absent in others where ecological explanations have been discounted. Among mammalian and avian species, cultural variation has previously been identified only for single behaviour patterns, such as the local dialects of song-birds. The extensive, multiple variations now documented for chimpanzees are thus without parallel. Moreover, the combined repertoire of these behaviour patterns in each chimpanzee community is itself highly distinctive, a phenomenon characteristic of human cultures but previously unrecognised in non-human species.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal*
  • Cognition
  • Culture*
  • Humans
  • Pan troglodytes / physiology*
  • Species Specificity