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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: November 2019

12 - Forty years striving to capture culture among the Taï chimpanzees


First established to distinguish humans from other animals, the concept of culture provides a stimulating framework to address complexity and diversity of social responses to environmental and social factors in animals. The ‘Golden Barrier’ separating humans from other animals thinned as observations of behavioural diversity in wild chimpanzees accumulated. For 40 years, the Taï Chimpanzee Project has contributed to discussions of animal culture. The ant-dipping and nut-cracking differences reported between chimpanzee populations across Africa produced insights into cultural attributes of chimpanzees. Observed differences between neighbouring communities in the same environment of Taï forest with routine gene flow presented strong evidence for a social process sustaining group-specific cultural differences. Today, the concept of chimpanzee culture implies not only varied behaviours, group-specific forms of social learning, but also conformity within groups, accumulation of variation within traits, presence of material, symbolic and social cultural traits and diverse forms of maternal tutoring. Future work will elucidate cultural transmission mechanisms in wild animal populations.

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