Though researchers have come to understand that in comparison to the human palette, chimpanzees may not be as refined, it appears that these clever relatives are foodies at heart. In fact, when it comes to a meal of grapes over veggies, chimpanzees will even go out of their way for the chance to dine on something sweeter than the norm. In a new study published this week in the journal PeerJ researchers at Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo investigated the food preferences of chimpanzees in captivity only to find that the animals are clever enough to find a way of getting the goodies they prefer.
Now while the chimpanzees don't have the cash to dine on sushi and kobe beef, they researchers did offer them a way to earn their keep. And what they found is much more similar to human behavior than they original thought.
At the Lincoln Park Zoo it appears that the group of chimpanzees prefer grapes over carrots. And the team of researchers, led by PhD Lydia Hopper of the Lester Fish Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes, gave the chimpanzees the opportunity to show just how far they would go to get the sweeter treat-literally. During the course of the 15-month study the team devised a system for transaction: in order to receive food rewards the chimpanzees were tasked with collecting tokens of a sort, PVC pipes. Those that picked the closer batch would receive a carrot, while those who ventured far would receive grapes. And by the end of 30 phases of their study, it appears that as a group the chimpanzees were willing to travel much further for better food items that better suited their tastes.
"It was quite fascinating to see the developments between each of the three phases of the token exchange study" Hopper says. "In addition to learning about food preferences and proximity, we also observed innovative, problem-solving behavior among the chimpanzees."
Ironically enough the first chimpanzee to make the discovery of the sweeter prize was a female named Chuckie, whose lowest status within the tribe forced her to venture further away to avoid any and all competition. But when alpha male Hank realized her benefits and made the switch, the rest of the chimpanzees followed in suite, proving that even the entire mob would be willing work just a bit harder to obtain the sweeter fruits of their labor.
And while the study merely reveals an example of food preference of chimpanzees in captivity, the underlying concepts of foraging strategies applies to those in the wild and groups of many other species as well. Though it may not be grapes versus carrots for every situation, researcher now have a model of how some animals choose to venture further just to suite their tastes.
"All of the chimpanzees in this study demonstrated flexible foraging strategies with minimal scrounging from one another" Hopper says. "Understanding the animals' preferences and exploration of their habitat is critical to caring for these animals."