Subject: SSR Bonobos in Wild in NYTimes 2/98

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February 17, 1998, Tuesday
Section: Science Desk

SCIENCE WATCH; Road Maps of Apes

Researchers studying apes in the wild have found that African bonobos use complex trail markers to communicate silently in the dense tropical forests where they live along the Congo River.

The discovery is contrary to the belief of many scientists that apes lack the brain structure for the use of symbolic language, E. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh of Georgia State University said on Saturday in a presentation to the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Bonobos, apes that closely resemble chimpanzees, live in dense forests with faint trails in bands of more than 100 and each night rest together in trees in a different spot.

During the day, they separate into small groups and forage for food, often traveling for miles. When the day ends, they find their way back together at a new resting place.

Ms. Savage-Rumbaugh said that in following the animals, she noticed that whenever a trail crossed another trail, the lead group would stamp down vegetation or rip off large leaves and place them carefully.

''What they are doing is leaving little notes in the vegetation,'' she said. ''Those notes are signals about where they are going to go.''

To prove her discovery, Ms. Savage-Rumbaugh said she twice followed the trail signs far behind groups of the apes. At the end of each day, she found her way to the reassembled band's new nesting trees.

Ms. Savage-Rumbaugh said it is impossible to study verbal communications among bonobos in the wild because they vocalize only when they are together in the trees. But captive bonobos, she said, have been easily trained to respond to verbal language and to point to symbols that have specific meanings.

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Related Terms:
Monkeys and Apes; Language and Languages; Brain; Research; Bonobos (Apes)

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