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Scientists Translate the Meaning Behind Chimpanzee Gestures

Scientists have decoded for the first time the meanings of chimpanzee gestures. Researchers at the University of St Andrews observed the behaviors of more than 80 wild chimps in Uganda. They found that the animals use 66 gestures, from arm raises to ground slaps to foot stomps, to communicate 19 meanings. When one chimp taps another, for example, it means “stop that.” A hand fling or slapping an object means “move away," while raising an arm means means “I want that” or “give me that.” The findings were published this week in the journal Current Biology.

In a separate study, scientists who studied over 700 hours of video footage of chimpanzee behavior at a wildlife sanctuary in Zambia concluded that the animals are copycats. The scientists sought to understand why it was that after one chimp repeatedly stuck a piece of grass in her ear, others soon followed suit. The conclusion: There’s nothing random about it; the chimps spontaneously copied the behavior from a group member. The study, led by Edwin van Leeuwen of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in The Netherlands, was published in Springer’s journal Animal Cognition.

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