Taronga’s charismatic 14 month-old chimpanzee, Fumo, has been impressing keepers and visitors with his dexterous use of tools at the termite mound, a behaviour not normally seen in chimps his age.
True to his name, which means “spear” in Swahili, Fumo can be seen carefully manipulating branches and twigs into the mound to extract food like mashed sweet potato.
In 1960 Dr Jane Goodall discovered that chimps make and use tools in the wild, an activity originally thought to be exclusive to humans. To encourage these wild behaviours, keepers put leafy branches in the exhibit and fill the termite mound with delicious food.
Like their wild cousins, Taronga’s chimps eat the leaves then turn the branches into make-shift tools. Interestingly, Fumo was quick to learn what to do and was soon confidently clambering over the termite mound manipulating his own tools to extract food from deep within the mound.
Senior Primate Supervisor, Lou Grossfeldt, said: “Fumo started using tools at about nine months of age. He’s always been a fairly independent chimp and incredibly inquisitive and confident. He obviously mirrors and mimics behaviour quite nicely because he’s figured out why the termite mound is there.
“It’s not the first time we’ve seen this behaviour develop early, but it’s been a long time since we’ve seen an infant with this sort of inquisitive nature. He’s a real stand out.”
“This development would potentially happen in the wild as well, and I think it’s very much an individual thing as well as being a reflection of upbringing, the confidence of his mother, cultural development of the chimpanzee group and what resources are available where the group lives. This combination lends itself to a particular behaviours developing in young chimps.”
“The right combination has just encouraged Fumo to try it. He’s watched it, he’s confident, he’s relaxed, and so he probably thought ‘I’m going to go for it,’” said Lou.
The best time to see Fumo using tools is in the morning as soon as the Zoo opens at 9:30.
Taronga’s chimp family is recognised internationally as one of the most significant in the world. The Zoo was one of the first to house and exhibit chimpanzees as a group and has an extremely successful breeding record. Taronga is committed to providing support, facilities and trained staff to the Tchimpounga Sanctuary in the Republic of Congo, operated by the Jane Goodall Institute.