Ubundu| A group of bonobo apes living in the Salonga National Park, may have mastered the basic practice of creating and using fire. This particular group of almost three hundred specimens from this rare and extremely intelligent race of great apes, have been under close surveillance by a team of primatologist for the last three years, and seem to have recently developed a primitive fire building technique using rocks and twigs.
The bonobo, formerly called pygmy chimpanzees, is a omnivorous great ape found in a 500 000km2 area of the Congo Basin in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is mostly popularly known for its high levels of sexual behavior and its use of almost a dozen different primitive tools. Its level of intelligence is already considered to be almost unique amongst ape, being topped only by humans. Two bonobos at the Great Ape Trust in Iowa, Kanzi and Panbanisha, have been even taught how to communicate using a keyboard labeled with lexigrams (geometric symbols) and they can respond to spoken sentences. Kanzi’s vocabulary consists of more than 500 English words and he has comprehension of around 3,000 spoken English words.
It is however, the first time that a group of these primates develops some technical concepts as elaborate as these on their own. A few individual apes seem to have originally developed a rudimentary technique of rather poor efficiency, but the group gradually improved it through experimentation and observation over the last few months. They are now able to create and maintain a fire, which they have been using mostly to scare off predators and cook some of their food. Some individuals in particular among the group, seem to have rapidly grown a taste for cooked foodstuffs, especially flying squirrels. This also enabled the group to develop to a population which is much larger than has ever been encountered in the species, by bringing increased security and by diversifying food sources.
This absolutely astonishing evolution has gotten primatologists as well as many other scientists from around the world, really excited. This could be a unique occasion to study the evolution of a species during a crucial moment of its history, and could bring a lot of information concerning the early developments of humankind. The congolese rural population of the other hand have a very different perception of the situation, as “torch bearing apes” have been accused of setting fire to more than 1500km2 of forest since the beginning of the year, causing the death of three people.