Chimpanzees are very intelligent and incredibly resourceful when in comes to creating ways to obtain their food. Visitors to the Houston Zoo can see an example of this creativity on a daily basis during the 12:30 keeper chat. The chimpanzee exhibit has its very own termite mound replica and guests can watch the chimpanzees modify and use branches to retrieve delicious treats such as yogurt, bananas, or juice .
Chimpanzees in the wild exhibit a similar behavior by modifying branches to fish for termites. Other examples of tool use by chimpanzees in the wild include modifying branches into spears for hunting small mammals, using rocks to crack nuts, wadding leaves as sponges to soak up water, and bunching leaves and branches to make comfortable nests to sleep in at night.
When visiting the Houston Zoo chimpanzee exhibit, take a second to watch the different techniques the chimpanzees use to ‘fish’ for their treats in the termite mound. Lucy’s favorite spot is the top of the termite mound. This is prime real estate when it is time to ‘fish.’ It is also a great spot for her to observe guests of the zoo and all their entertaining antics. She usually chews on the end of her branch in order to make it better able to soak up liquids or makes it flatter so that it can scoop more treats out of the tubes.
Willie, the juvenile, has his own unique technique. Instead of modifying his own branch, he usually tries to steal someone else’s already modified tool. If he doesn’t steal the tool, he may sit just next to another chimpanzee and take their delicious treat off the end of their branch before they get a chance to enjoy it.
Let us know your suggestions for what tasty treat to put in the chimpanzees’ termite mound, then stop by on May 25-27 for a ‘Spotlight on Species’ focusing on Chimpanzees to see what they are fishing for that day. The ‘Spotlight on Species’ will be from 10am-3pm and there will be many fun and educational activities to help visitors learn about chimpanzees. You can bring in old cell phones for recycling in exchange for a chimpanzee conservation bracelet. Meet the primate keepers who care for the Houston Zoo’s chimpanzees at 12:30 and 2:30 during a keeper chat.