New research reveals more detail about the communication between bonobos and chimps, our closest living relatives.
Scientists have described the communications of chimpanzees and bonobos in new and unsurpassed detail, offering a lexicon for our closest living relatives and even a glimpse into the origins of human language.
The research, contained in two new studies published July 3 in Current Biology, focuses on physical gestures. These are the primary form of communication in bonobos and chimps, used more readily than vocalizations.
One study describes how a certain bonobo gesture conveys an informational complexity not previously observed in non-human great apes. The other study identifies the meanings of no fewer than 36 chimpanzee gestures.
“What we’ve shown is a very rich system of many different meanings,” said primatologist Richard Byrne of Scotland’s University of St. Andrews, co-author ofthe chimpanzee study. “We have the closest thing to human language that you can see in nature.”
Byrne’s co-author, fellow University of St. Andrews primatologist Catherine Hobaiter, spent 18 months observing a group of chimpanzees in the Budongo Forest Reserve in western Kenya. Hobaiter painstakingly documented more than 4,500 gestures in 3,400 incidents of chimp-to-chimp gesturing, noting both the motions used and the responses of nearby chimps.