Preparation and use of varied natural tools for extractive foraging by bonobos (Pan Paniscus)

Itai Roffman, Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, Elizabeth Rubert-Pugh, André Stadler, Avraham Ronen, Eviatar Nevo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives The tool-assisted extractive foraging capabilities of captive (zoo) and semi-captive (sanctuary) bonobo (Pan paniscus) groups were compared to each other and to those known in wild chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) cultures. Materials and Methods The bonobos were provided with natural raw materials and challenged with tasks not previously encountered, in experimental settings simulating natural contexts where resources requiring special retrieval efforts were hidden. They were shown that food was buried underground or inserted into long bone cavities, and left to tackle the tasks without further intervention. Results The bonobos used modified branches and unmodified antlers or stones to dig under rocks and in the ground or to break bones to retrieve the food. Antlers, short sticks, long sticks, and rocks were effectively used as mattocks, daggers, levers, and shovels, respectively. One bonobo successively struck a long bone with an angular hammer stone, completely bisecting it longitudinally. Another bonobo modified long branches into spears and used them as attack weapons and barriers. Bonobos in the sanctuary, unlike those in the zoo, used tool sets to perform sequential actions. Discussion The competent and diverse tool-assisted extractive foraging by the bonobos corroborates and complements the extensive information on similar tool use by chimpanzees, suggesting that such competence is a shared trait. Better performance by the sanctuary bonobos than the zoo group was probably due to differences in their cultural exposure and housing conditions. The bonobos' foraging techniques resembled some of those attributed to Oldowan hominins, implying that they can serve as referential models. Am J Phys Anthropol 158:78-91, 2015.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)78-91
Number of pages14
JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. © 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.


  • Kanzi
  • Panbanisha
  • early hominins
  • food processing
  • resource acquisition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Anatomy


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