Einstein Science Reporting for Kids
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American Association for the Advancement of Science

Do apes plan ahead?

When you pack your suitcase for a trip to the beach this summer, what kinds of stuff will you bring? You should probably take your bathing suit, and you might bring some shovels and pails to build a sand castle. You can figure out what to pack by thinking about the things you want to do at the beach when you get there.

Lots of scientists believe that maybe humans are the only animals who can think ahead like this, but our ape cousins may be just as smart.

In the 19 May issue of Science, Nicholas Mulcahy and Josep Call at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany talk about the tests they did to see if bonobo chimpanzees and orangutans could plan ahead like humans do.

The scientists let the apes pick out tools that they could use to reach grapes and juice bottles. The apes carried the tools to their sleeping rooms and brought them back hours later to reach the treats. One of the orangutans named Dokana was the smartest one. She brought back the right tool and figured out how to get her snack almost every time.

It seems like the apes are planning ahead when they remember to bring their tools to reach the treats, the scientists say.

This might mean that humans aren't the only ones who can think about what they might do in the future. An ape might be able to pack a suitcase for a vacation just like you do. But what does an orangutan wear on the beach?


This article appears in the 19 May edition of the journal Science.