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. 2005 Nov;3(11):e380.
doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.0030380. Epub 2005 Oct 1.

First Observation of Tool Use in Wild Gorillas

Free PMC article

First Observation of Tool Use in Wild Gorillas

Thomas Breuer et al. PLoS Biol. .
Free PMC article


Descriptions of novel tool use by great apes in response to different circumstances aids us in understanding the factors favoring the evolution of tool use in humans. This paper documents what we believe to be the first two observations of tool use in wild western gorillas (Gorilla gorilla). We first observed an adult female gorilla using a branch as a walking stick to test water deepness and to aid in her attempt to cross a pool of water at Mbeli Bai, a swampy forest clearing in northern Congo. In the second case we saw another adult female using a detached trunk from a small shrub as a stabilizer during food processing. She then used the trunk as a self-made bridge to cross a deep patch of swamp. In contrast to information from other great apes, which mostly show tool use in the context of food extraction, our observations show that in gorillas other factors such as habitat type can stimulate the use of tools.


Figure 1
Figure 1. Female Leah Using a Walking Stick while Crossing Bipedally through an Elephant Pool at Mbeli Bai
Female Leah first looked at the new elephant pool and the branch she later used as the walking stick, and entered the water without the tool (not shown). After re-entering the pool and taking the branch with her right hand, she walked bipedally 8–10 m into the water, frequently testing water deepness.
Figure 2
Figure 2. Female Efi Using Trunk as a Stabilizer during Food Processing at Mbeli Bai
The top photo shows the intact trunk shortly before Efi manipulated it (visible to the left of female Fulani). The trunk was then detached by female Efi with both hands (middle), pushed into the ground, and used as a stabilizing stick while dredging aquatic herbs towards her with her other hand (bottom).

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