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ISU anthropology professor Jill Pruetz shoots a segment for the "Nova" documentary "Ape Genius" at her research site in Senegal. Photo by James Donald, John Rubin Productions
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'Science Café' to explore the human nature of chimps with Jill Pruetz on Jan. 21
AMES, Iowa -- Jill Pruetz has seen the chimpanzees at her Senegal research site do some very "human" things. They hunt with spear-shaped tools. They seek cool relief in caves when the African weather gets too hot. They share their food with others.
An Iowa State University associate professor of anthropology, Pruetz will share what she's learned about chimps' behavior in ISU's "Science Café" on Wednesday, Jan. 21, at 6 p.m. in the Northeast Mezzanine at Legends American Grill at 200 Stanton Ave. in Ames. Her presentation "Chimps: They're More Human Than You Think," is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served.
"I plan to share an overview of what I've observed in the chimpanzees from my Fongoli site, including pictures and some video clips," Pruetz said. "It should highlight some of the near human behavior we've reported seeing the chimps exhibit."
Pruetz made global news two years ago with her study reporting that chimpanzees from her site are using spear-shaped tools to hunt smaller primates. The discovery was ranked second among Wired News' "Top 10 Scientific Breakthroughs of 2007."
A month after her tool-use study was published, she reported that those same chimpanzees are also seeking shelter in caves to get out of the extreme African heat -- also becoming the first to document regular chimpanzee cave use.
Honored as a National Geographic Emerging Explorer for 2008, Pruetz and the chimps from her Fongoli research site in Western Africa were also featured last year in the Public Broadcasting System "Nova" documentary "Ape Genius."
Pruetz is now studying how chimpanzees at her site routinely transfer food to mates or other unrelated social group members -- something previously considered uncommon among chimpanzees and a defining characteristic of humans. Male chimpanzees at her site shared plant foods and tools with an unrelated adult female -- perhaps as a form of mating strategy -- and also rarely monopolized carcasses when other chimps sought meat. While females shared with males, they also effectively ignored males' begging behavior.
"It's (the food-sharing behavior) been distinctly human, but found in Bonobos too," Pruetz said. "But the thing about Bonobos is they have this great reliance on sex as a social glue and ways of easing tension. So Bonobos and humans are similar in terms of their affiliation. But then if you look at chimps and humans, they're more similar in terms of their aggression, and that's not the case at my site. These chimps are different. They look more like Bonobos and humans in terms of their behavior."
She is also studying how the chimps living in her savanna environment react to seasonally occurring bush fires. Pruetz says reports of the wild great apes' reactions to fire may provide anthropologists insight on the likely response to fire by human ancestors.
The "Science Café" program is co-sponsored by the ISU chapter of Sigma Xi -- an international, multidisciplinary scientific research society -- and the Iowa State University Graduate College. Sigma Xi's national organization is supporting science cafés as a way to communicate science to the public.
Bill Simpkins, the president of Iowa State's chapter of Sigma Xi and a professor of geological and atmospheric sciences, says the Science Café program is designed for scientists and engineers to share their research through informal conversations in a friendly setting. Simpkins is organizing two Science Café programs per semester.
Pruetz will also present the Spring 2009 Presidential University Lecture "Savanna Chimpanzees and Our Understanding of Human Evolution," on Monday, March 2, at 8 p.m. in the Sun Room of ISU's Memorial Union.
Pruetz on NBC's TODAY show.
Associate Professor of Anthropology Jill Pruetz will present "Chimps: They're More Human Than You Think," at ISU's "Science Café" on Wednesday, Jan. 21, at 6 p.m. at Legends American Grill in Ames. The event is free and open to the public.
"I plan to share an overview of what I've observed in the chimpanzees from my Fongoli site, including pictures and some video clips. It should highlight some of the near human behavior we've reported seeing the chimps exhibit."