Congo: A Group of Chimpanzees Seem to Have Mastered Fire


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.

12 Comments on "Congo: A Group of Chimpanzees Seem to Have Mastered Fire"

  1. Sounds almost identical to the book Chromozone 6 – by Robin Cook – of course his apes on the island advanced cause they mucked about with their chromosomes and where using them as replacement parts for the human double…..they left that part out of the above story.

  2. Donutsection | May 29, 2014 at 7:07 pm | Reply

    Well I typed in bonobos build fire and got a good fifty different sources.

    • yes and when you open them they are all about the same guy Kanzi in Iowa…read them

  3. I can’t find anything about this anywhere else on the internet. Kanzi can build a fire and cook food, but he learned from humans and lives at a facility in Iowa.

    • You must not have used Google. Because I searched “chimps build fire” and got a large number of posts from different sources

    • hawkechik | May 29, 2014 at 6:48 pm |

      Nope. Nothing. Scanned through the first hundred hits or so, every one is to do with either Kanzi, or that chimps understand the 1st step to fire (predictive behavior), or that they can be taught (like Kanzi). Nothing anywhere about independently learning to control and more, create, fire.

    • and they are all about the same Bonobo Kanzi read people

    • FatBabyDick | June 7, 2014 at 1:16 pm |

      Yeah I searched and the only references I could find referred to Knzi the one in captivity, (that’s no surprise, we have known for 100 years Cmips could be trained to perform complex tasks, or were blog posts that linked back to this story. While this is certainly plausible, Bonobo Chimps being the most advanced great ape after man, it would be HUGE for a wild animal to master fire on it’s own.

    • Try removing the quotes. I only get one hit with them, plenty without.

  4. Wizard Garber | May 28, 2014 at 4:33 am | Reply

    Take your stinking paws off me you damn dirty ape!

    • Effectivement… Je ne savais pas tout ça, au temps pour moi. Ce qui est certains, et je pense le message fort du poste, c’est que ça n’est pas aux généralistes de faire des arrêts pour des soins réalisés par les spé! (Et dont on ne connaît pas forcément très bien les modalités!)

  5. Nest they could try IED’s

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