Chimps have most of the mental capabilities needed to cook food, a new research suggests.
According to the study, published in The Royal Society Proceedings B, the ability to cook food is deep seated and may have arisen in human ancestors millions of years ago.
Cooking requires a set of sophisticated cognitive abilities, including causal reasoning, self-control and anticipatory planning.
The conclusions also indicate that humans may have developed the ability to cook very soon after they learned how to control fire.
Even boiling an egg requires advanced mental skills. Whereas other animals tend to start eating whatever food they find or hunt straight away, humans can store and cook their food, even if we are fairly hungry, because we know that if we wait what we eventually eat will taste better.
It seems that our ability to smack our lips at the prospect of a delicious, well prepared meal requires a similar inspired leap of the imagination as producing art, developing language and creating the technologies that make us uniquely human.
Dr. Felix Warneken of Harvard University conducted a simian MasterChef contest in which he conducted a series of experiments on chimpanzees to see whether they had what it took to be cooks.
Clearly chimps can’t cook and so there was no point in giving them a bag of shopping and letting them loose in a kitchen with assorted pots and pans, amusing though the spectacle might have been.
Instead, Dr. Felix Warneken carried out a series of experiments to test the individual cognitive skills the chimps needed to be able to cook. He looked to see if they preferred cooked rather than raw food, whether they could wait until raw food could be cooked and if they would put raw food into a box that scientists switched for cooked food. He found that they passed all these tests and more.
So why don’t chimps cook? Not being able to control fire is one reason and another, according to Dr. Felix Warneken, is that cooking requires what he describes as “social skills” that chimps don’t possess.
By social skills he is not alluding to their unremarkable table manners nor their lack of witty dinner party conversation. Rather, it is their inability to trust others in their social groups not to steal their food while they are preparing to cook it that he is referring and it is this he believes is one of the key factors holding them back from being able to cook. Gulping something down as soon as you have foraged it is the surest way of keeping it safe.
Dr. Felix Warneken’s experiments show that that most of the mental skills needed to cook were there in human ancestors between 5 to 7 million years ago and so all it took for the first emergence of the culinary arts was the controlled use of fire and the ability to trust other people not to pinch our food while our back was turned.
The motivation for the study was to investigate a controversial theory that cooking was necessary for human brains to become larger. The idea by the primatologist Prof. Richard Wrangham, also at Harvard, is that cooking enabled our ancestors to eat more protein, which helped our ancestors develop their brains.
The results indicate that early humans had everything in place once they had learned to control fire and so, according to Dr. Felix Warneken, supports Prof. Richard Wrangham’s ideas.
Experts in human evolution say that they find it “interesting” that chimpanzees and humans share several of the essential psychological capacities needed, but believe that the chimp study does not add much new information to the human story.
A writ of habeas corpus has been issued by a New York court in a case brought by animal rights activists on behalf of two chimpanzees.
The order means the university holding the chimpanzees will have to respond to the activists’ petition in court.
The activists said the court had “implicitly determined” that the two chimpanzees are legal “persons”.
Other experts say the writ may simply be a way for the court to gather more information at a further hearing.
The case concerns two chimpanzees – Hercules and Leo – being held at a research facility at Stony Brook University in New York State.
The Nonhuman Rights Project originally filed a lawsuit on behalf of the chimpanzees in 2013 with a view to having them transferred to a sanctuary in Florida, but in that instance the courts refused to issue a writ.
On April 20, Judge Barbara Jaffe of New York’s state Supreme Court issued the writ, meaning a hearing will now be held on May 6 in which the university’s lawyers will have to explain the legal basis of the chimpanzees’ detention.
Habeas corpus – Latin for “you may have the body”- is a writ which traditionally requires a person detained by the authorities to be brought before a court of law so that the legality of the detention may be examined.
“The judge may merely want more information to make a decision on the legal personhood claim, and may have ordered a hearing simply as a vehicle for hearing out both parties in more depth,” law professor Richard Cupp told Science magazine.
“It would be quite surprising if the judge intended to make a momentous substantive finding that chimpanzees are legal persons if the judge has not yet heard the other side’s arguments,” he added.
David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the New York State Courts, also rejected the activists’ claim that the judge had conferred personhood on the chimps.
The judge had merely signed an order to show “cause”, he said, and the hearing in May would determine next steps.
The Nonhuman Rights Project says the ruling is the first of its kind and can be used as a precedent in future litigation.
The group argues that New York law does not limit legal personhood to human beings.
The state has previously conferred legal personhood status on domestic animals who are the beneficiaries of trusts, the campaign says, as well as extending rights to non-human entities such as corporations.
Animal rights group Nonhuman Rights Project is calling on a New York court to recognize a chimpanzee as a legal person, in what is believed to be a legal first.
The Nonhuman Rights Project wants chimp Tommy to be granted “legal personhood” and thus entitled to the “fundamental right of bodily liberty”.
The group is planning to file the same lawsuit on behalf of three other chimps across New York this week.
It wants the four to be released from their captivity.
They should be taken to a sanctuary that is a member of the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance, the group argues.
The group filed the lawsuit on behalf of Tommy on Monday.
“We are claiming that chimpanzees are autonomous – that is, being able to self-determine, be self-aware, and be able to choose how to live their own lives,” its founder Steven Wise told the Associated Press news agency.
The Nonhuman Rights Project wants chimp Tommy to be granted legal personhood and thus entitled to the fundamental right of bodily liberty
Scientists’ evidence is included in the lawsuits.
“Once we prove that chimpanzees are autonomous, that should be sufficient for them to gain legal personhood and at least have their fundamental interests protected by human rights,” Steven Wise said.
Tommy, the group said, “is being held captive in a shed at a used-trailer lot” in Gloversville, New York.
Patrick Lavery, owner of the site where Tommy lives, said the chimp’s cage was spacious “with tons of toys”.
He said he rescued Tommy from his previous home, where he had been badly treated, but had been unsuccessful in placing him in a sanctuary because there was no room.
“If [the Nonhuman Rights Group] were to see where this chimp lived for the first 30 years of his life, they would jump up and down for joy about where he is now,” Patrick Lavery told the New York Times.
The lawsuit invokes the common law writ of habeas corpus, the right to challenge unlawful detention.
The Nonhuman Rights Group says it is dedicated to changing the common law status of species considered autonomous, and could eventually file lawsuits on behalf of gorillas, orangutans, whales, dolphins and elephants.
Charla Nash, who lost her eyesight, lips, nose, and hands when she was mauled by a chimpanzee in 2009, has been denied permission to sue Connecticut.
Her family sought permission to sue for $150 million but was denied on Friday by state Claims Commissioner J. Paul Vance Jr.
Connecticut has “sovereign immunity” from lawsuits unless they’re allowed by the commissioner.
Charla Nash’s lawyer had said the state should be held responsible for failing to seize the animal before the attack, because it was warned the animal was dangerous.
J. Paul Vance Jr. said in his decision that at the time of the attack, state law did not prohibit the private ownership of chimpanzees and did not require the state to seize an animal that was privately owned and not banned by the state.
He noted that the state banned the ownership of chimpanzees after the attack.
“The State of Connecticut, were it a private person, would generally not have any duty to control the conduct of (a) third party absent some special relationship,” J. Paul Vance Jr. wrote.
Charla Nash has a chance to appeal to the state General Assembly to reverse Vance’s decision.
“I hope and pray that the commissioner will give me my day in court,” Charla Nash previously told reporters following a hearing in August before Claims Commissioner J. Paul Vance Jr.
“And I also pray that I hope this never happens to anyone else again. It is not nice.”
State Attorney General George Jepsen said the state shouldn’t be held liable for the mauling.
He argued the judge should deny permission due to a law called the “public duty doctrine”. It says the state has a duty to protect the general public in regulatory matters, but not any individual who is injured by another person not complying with regulations, the Hartford Courant reported.
Charla Nash, who lost her eyesight, lips, nose, and hands when she was mauled by a chimpanzee in 2009, has been denied permission to sue Connecticut state
Charla Nash, who received a successful face transplant in 2011, reached a $4 million settlement last year with the estate of chimp owner Sandra Herold, who died in 2010. She had sought $50 million.
The settlement agreement filed in Stamford Probate Court calls for Sandra Herold’s estate to provide Charla with $3.4 million in real estate, $331,000 in cash, $140,000 in machinery and equipment and $44,000 in vehicles.
Brenden Leydon, a Stamford lawyer representing Sandra Herold’s estate, had argued that it couldn’t be sued because Charla Nash was an employee of Herold and any claims were a worker’s compensation matter.
Charla Nash now lives in a nursing home outside of Boston. She had gone to Sandra Herold’s home on the day of the attack to help lure Herold’s 200-pound chimpanzee, Travis, back into her home.
But the animal went berserk and ripped off Charla Nash’s nose, lips, eyelids and hands before being shot to death by a police officer.
Travis had starred in TV commercials for Old Navy and Coca-Cola when he was younger and made an appearance on The Maury Povich Show.
The chimpanzee was the constant companion of the widowed Sandra Herold and was fed steak, lobster and ice cream. The chimp could eat at the table, drink wine from a stemmed glass, use the toilet and dress and bathe himself.
A month after the mauling, Charla Nash’s family sued Sandra Herold for alleged negligence and recklessness.
The lawsuit alleged Sandra Herold knew Travis was dangerous but failed to confine him to a secure area and allowed him to roam her property.
It also claimed Sandra Herold gave the chimp medication that exacerbated his “violent propensities”.
Travis had previously bitten another woman’s hand and tried to drag her into a car in 1996, bit a man’s thumb two years later and escaped from her home and roamed downtown Stamford for hours before being captured in 2003, according to the lawsuit.
Charla Nash wants to sue the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which she holds responsible for not seizing the animal before the attack despite a state biologist’s warning it was dangerous.
About one in 13 people have flexible ape-like feet, US scientists have discovered.
A team studied the feet of 398 visitors to the Boston Museum of Science.
The results show differences in foot bone structure similar to those seen in fossils of a member of the human lineage from two million years ago.
It is hoped the research, published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, will establish how that creature moved.
Apes like the chimpanzee spend a lot of their time in trees, so their flexible feet are essential to grip branches and allow them to move around quickly – but how most of us ended up with more rigid feet remains unclear.
Jeremy DeSilva from Boston University and a colleague asked the museum visitors to walk barefoot and observed how they walked by using a mechanized carpet that was able to analyze several components of the foot.
About one in 13 people have flexible ape-like feet
Most of us have very rigid feet, helpful for stability, with stiff ligaments holding the bones in the foot together.
When primates lift their heels off the ground, however, they have a floppy foot with nothing holding their bones together.
This is known as a midtarsal break and is similar to what the Boston team identified in some of their participants.
This makes the middle part of the foot bend more easily as the subject pushes off to propel themselves on to their next step.
Prof. Jeremy DeSilva said how we might be able to observe whether we have this flexibility: “The best way to see this is if you’re walking on the beach and leaving footprints, the middle portion of your footprint would have a big ridge that might show your foot is actually folding in that area.”
Another way, he added, was to set up a video camera and record yourself walking, to observe the bones responsible for this folding motion.
Most with this flexibility did not realize they had it and there was no observable difference in the speed of their stride.
In addition, Prof. Jeremy DeSilva found that people with a flexible fold in their feet also roll to the inside of their foot as they walk.
The bone structure of a two-million-year old fossil human relative, Australopithecus sediba, suggests it also had this mobility.
“We are using variation in humans today as a model for understanding what this human creature two million years ago was doing,” added Prof. Jeremy De Silva.