Observed in the wild and tested in captivity, chimpanzees invite comparison with humans, their close relatives. They bear a family resemblance that fascinates people, and scientists see increasing evidence of similarities in chimp behavior and skills, making some of them think on the vagaries of evolution. Chimps display a remarkable range of behavior and talent. They make and use simple tools, hunt in groups and engage in aggressive, violent acts. They are social creatures that appear to be capable of empathy, altruism, self-awareness, cooperation in problem solving and learning through example and experience. Chimps even outperform humans in some memory tasks.
Jane Goodall, a young English woman working in Africa in the 1960s, began changing perceptions. At first, experts disputed her reports of chimps’ using tools and social behavior. The experts especially objected to her references to chimp culture. Just humans, they insisted, had “culture.”
Tetsuro Matsuzawa, a Kyoto primatologist, described a young chimp watching as numbers 1 through 9 flashed on the computer screen at random positions. Then the numbers disappeared in no more than a second. White squares remained where the numbers had been. The chimp casually but swiftly pressed the squares, calling back the numbers in ascending order — 1, 2, 3, etc.