SWANTARA, Congo - In a remarkable experiment, biologists have documented gorillas in the wild are not only good at using simple tools, like a stick to poke in a swampy pool of water to check its depth, but in more sophisticated ways when given more sophisticated tools.
Recently, in the Republic of Congo, scientists saw gorillas using objects in the wild as tools. So, scientists secretly placed more complex objects in plain view of the great apes and the results were shocking.
"This is a truly an astounding discovery," said Professor Morris Sleevebaker. "The great apes knew what to do with thermometers, can openers, flashlights and when they didn't know exactly what to do with them, they improvised."
Digital visual documentation soon will be released, showing an alpha-male great ape taking the temperature of his mate using a rectal thermometer, which is just one of the fascinating acts.
In another scene, a young gorilla builds a replica of the Taj Mahal using an erector set.
Scientists' observations were made in a marshy clearing called Mbeli Baia, located in Nouabale-Ndoki National Park.
It began, they said, with a great ape picking up a revolver and some bullets and not knowing the relationship between the objects. A month later, the same gorilla had not only figured out that the bullets were meant to go into the gun barrel, he had also shot three observing scientists at forty paces. The scientists lived to be astounded.
"I never knew what hit me," said Roberto Pileplant, one of the victims. "Good thing we didn't give the ape a shotgun."
The next instance was when a female gorilla attempted to set a table so that her five children could eat a snake that she had peeled with a large knife and cooked in a microwave.
Next, three large male gorillas built a bridge out of old iron girders, allowing them to cross a muddy patch of ground.
Fairly or not, gorillas have been considered less capable than other great apes, in part because how they have been portrayed in movies, specifically old black and white jungle movies.
Chimps have been strenuously observed for decades since the late Jane Goodall launched a study in Tanzania. Chimps have become stars of film and TV, displaying their talent, using rocks to break open hard-shelled nuts and sticks to fish termites from mounds.
But gorillas, much larger, stronger and slower, have been looked upon as lumbering beasts that could not tell a nut from a testicle.
"Chimps are still the super-ape and gorillas are the big brutes," said Frank Fenterbarrel, a primate expert who has thicker and longer body hair than most humans. He has conducted gorilla field studies for years and has called gorillas "Hairy nutjobs."
"New studies like this show that lowland gorillas are human-like in their abilities," Sleevebaker said. "Next we hope to see how they will do when we put a gorilla family in a rented apartment in Trenton, New Jersey."