Naïve orangutans (Pongo abelii and Pongo pygmaeus) individually acquire nut-cracking using hammer tools

Bibliographic Collection: 
Publication Type: Journal Article
Authors: Bandini, Elisa; Grossmann, Johannes; Funk, Martina; Albiach-Serrano, Anna; Tennie, Claudio
Year of Publication: 2021
Journal: American Journal of Primatology
Volume: n/a
Issue: n/a
Pagination: e23304
Date Published: 2021/08/11
Publication Language: eng
ISBN Number: 0275-2565
Keywords: individual learning, nut-cracking, Orangutan, Social learning, tool-use

Abstract Nut-cracking with hammer tools (henceforth: nut-cracking) has been argued to be one of the most complex tool-use behaviors observed in nonhuman animals. So far, only chimpanzees, capuchins, and macaques have been observed using tools to crack nuts in the wild (Boesch and Boesch, 1990; Gumert et al., 2009; Mannu and Ottoni, 2009). However, the learning mechanisms behind this behavior, and the extent of nut-cracking in other primate species are still unknown. The aim of this study was two-fold. First, we investigated whether another great ape species would develop nut-cracking when provided with all the tools and appropriate conditions to do so. Second, we examined the mechanisms behind the emergence of nut-cracking by testing a naïve sample. Orangutans (Pongo abelii and Pongo pygmaeus) have the second most extensive tool-use repertoire among the great apes (after chimpanzees) and show flexible problem-solving capacities. Orangutans have not been observed cracking nuts in the wild, however, perhaps because their arboreal habits provide limited opportunities for nut-cracking. Therefore, orangutans are a valid candidate species for the investigation of the development of this behavior. Four nut-cracking-naïve orangutans at Leipzig zoo (P. abelii; Mage?=?16; age range?=?10?19; 4F; at the time of testing) were provided with nuts and hammers but were not demonstrated the nut-cracking behavioral form. Additionally, we report data from a previously unpublished study by one of the authors (Martina Funk) with eight orangutans housed at Zürich zoo (six P. abelii and two P. pygmaeus; Mage?=?14; age range?=?2?30; 5F; at the time of testing) that followed a similar testing paradigm. Out of the twelve orangutans tested, at least four individuals, one from Leipzig (P. abelii) and three from Zürich (P. abelii and P. pygmaeus), spontaneously expressed nut-cracking using wooden hammers. These results demonstrate that nut-cracking can emerge in orangutans through individual learning and certain types of non-copying social learning.

Short Title: American Journal of Primatology
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