April 27 – Ecce Bobo

Today’s factismal: People aren’t the only featherless bipeds.

If you think that scientists arguing over definitions is something new, think again; it is a practice that has been going on since time immemorial. Perhaps one of the most famous early arguments was about how to define a human being. This argument took place between Plato and Diogenes more than 2300 years ago and is actually still going on today. Plato kept proposing possible ways of separating people from animals and for every suggestion that Plato would make, Diogenes would point out a counter example. Plato would say that we were the only animals that wage war and Diogenes would point out the ants. Plato would say that we were the only animals with music and Diogenes would point out the birds. Plato would say that we were the only animals that taught our young and Diogenes would point out the cats. Finally, Plato knew he had a definition that would leave Diogenes stumped; Plato said that we were the only featherless biped. The next day, Diogenes walked up to Plato and threw a plucked chicken at his feet. “Behold!” Diogenes exclaimed. “A man!”

A chimpanzee out for a morning jog (My camera)

A chimpanzee out for a morning jog
(My camera)

By the 1960s, the definition of human had changed a little. But what hadn’t changed was the desire to find something that set up apart from the other animals. At the time, the thought was that man was the only tool-making and using animal out there. And then Jane Goodall went out and actually studied another animal. By carefully watching chimpanzees in their natural habitat, she discovered that they also made tools to use for things like dragging food out of termite mounds and scratching themselves and even for killing other animals. Suddenly, we weren’t the only tool makers out there.

A mature male chimpanzee(My camera)

A mature male chimpanzee
(My camera)

Needless to say, her discoveries caused a lot of consternation. Though there were many who disbelieved her at first, others went into the jungle and verified what she had said. Chimpanzees use tools. But how often do they use them? Why do they use them? How do they use them? Those questions are still very much up for debate.

A family of chimpanzees using tools(My camera)

A family of chimpanzees using tools
(My camera)

And that’s where you come in! The folks over at Chimpandsee (get it?) have set up a series of cameras in 15 countries across all of Africa in order to document chimpanzee behavior in the wild. They need folks just like you to look through the pictures to identify chimpanzees, name any new ones (BTW – “Ex-Boss” is taken), and describe any behaviors being shown by the chimps. To learn more, swing on over to:
http://www.chimpandsee.org/#/about

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