In a fashion similar to human girls, some young chimpanzees seem to play with sticks as if they were dolls.
The findings, reported in the Dec. 21 Current Biology, are the first documented evidence of boy and girl primates in the wild playing differently with their toys. Though these patterns’ origins will surely be argued, they add to the constellation of behaviors shared by humans with our closest living relative.
“We find that juveniles tend to carry sticks in a manner suggestive of rudimentary doll play and, as in children and captive monkeys, this behavior is more common in females than in males,” wrote anthropologists Richard Wrangham of Harvard University and Sonya Kahlenberg of Bates College.
Wrangham’s group has studied chimpanzees in Uganda’s Kibale National Park since the late 1980s, following in the methodological steps of his mentor, Jane Goodall, whose exhaustive, patient fieldwork first revealed that chimpanzees use tools and are more like humans than once thought.
They are our cousins.