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Chimpanzees Would Cook if Given the Chance, Research Says

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Would chimpanzees be interested in cooking their food? Would they have the patience to wait if given the opportunity? To find out these answers, how do you create a safe experiment that doesn’t include fire or real cooking gear?

At the Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center, a part of The Jane Goodall Institute in the Republic of Congo, researchers Felix Warneken and Alexandra G. Rosati developed an experiment — a raw sweet potato slice, a cooked sweet potato slice, and two bowls that keep them separate and hidden when needed — to determine if chimps have the cognitive capability to cook.

The result after two separate seasons of testing: The chimps preferred the cooked food and they were willing to postpone eating so that the “cooking” process could occur.

So why don’t they cook their food in the wild? First: They haven’t mastered fire. Second:

“Cooking is sort of this very strange behavior because people do it together. Knowing something about the social behavior of chimps suggests that might actually be a really serious problem for them. So in contrast to humans, who will gather food and bring it back to a central location and cook it together, and share the food, chimps sort of eat on the go and they don’t really share food in that kind of way. So this sort of social explanation suggests that could be a really serious constraint on the evolution of cooking.”

Next: Jane Goodall and Her Chimps, How to Speak Chimpanzee, and more about evolution.

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