Chimps in western Africa have demonstrated a human-like attraction to alcohol, happily stealing — and consuming — palm wine left unattended by humans, a study found.
Researchers from England used hidden video cameras to film chimps in Guinea stealing wine humans had made from the raffia palm, which produces a sugary sap that can be fermented into an alcoholic beverage.
No cups needed, thank you; the chimps were observed using leaves, which they folded up into a crude vessel to collect the sap for drinking.
Also, just as with humans, there are solitary chimp drinkers and social chimp drinkers that like to imbibe with a companion, the researchers observed.
"There are reports from (locals) that chimps can consume an entire container in one sitting, says study leader Kimberley Hockings of Britain's Oxford Brookes University. "They probably would drink more if they had easier access to it."
Both male and female chimps enjoyed the chance at a tipple, say the researchers, who found the palm wine alcohol content to be around three percent, about the same as a weak lager beer.
However, Hockings suggests it's not the alcohol that's the main draw for the chimps, but rather the sweet sucrose and glucose in the sap, which would provide nutrients for the chimps' diet.
Other primate experts agree. "Chimps love honey," says Thibaud Gruber of Switzerland's University of Neuchatel. "It's more likely that the sugar is what they are interested in."
Still, Hockings points out, while the chimps may be attracted by the sweetness, there's the possibility they're not drinking just for the calories.
"The chimps are ingesting palm wine throughout the year," she notes. "It wasn't just when no wild food was available."
At the very least, she suggests, the alcohol in the palm wine "is not a deterrent."
The study is the first to identify wild apes with a taste for alcohol, although green monkeys imported to the Caribbean island of St. Kits have demonstrated a knack for knocking back cocktails left unattended by tourists there.
An Asian primate known as the slow loris will also lick fermented alcoholic nectar from flowers in its jungle habitat.
What stands out with the Guinea chimps is their tool-use approach to satisfying their thirst, Hockings says.
"Chimpanzees at Bossou (Guinea) have applied their knowledge of how to make and use leafy tools to exploit a new liquid resource — palm wine," she says. "This new use of elementary technology shows once again how clever and enterprising humankind's nearest living relations are."