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Chimps with Spears Captivate Photographer

A peculiar band of chimpanzees lives amid the grasslands of Senegal in western Africa.

While most chimps live in the canopies of tropical forests, these primates live mostly on the open ground of the savannah. And they have adopted highly evolved survival strategies — such as hunting with weapons.

Photographer Frans Lanting traveled to an area of Senegal known as Fongoli last summer to record the chimps for National Geographic. He teamed up with anthropologist Jill Pruetz, who has spent six years in the region studying the animals. Each morning, they would get up before dawn and follow the chimps as they foraged — sometimes traveling as much as 15 miles.


"They don't look different from other chimpanzees," Lanting tells NPR's Alex Chadwick. "It's more that they live in a very different environment."

To cope with their harsh environment, the Fongoli chimps have developed unusual behaviors. Lanting and Pruetz observed the primates fashioning spears from tree limbs to capture bush babies, small mammals that hide deep inside hollow trees.

"No one has ever seen that before in any other chimps elsewhere," Lanting says.

The Fongoli chimps often displayed behaviors akin to those of early humans.

"There is very little fundamental difference in my opinion between how these chimps live and how our very earliest ancestors lived," Lanting says. "It's just like looking at human beings. I regard these chimpanzees as very shy, private people."


Like humans, the male chimps also seem to have a bit of a rhythmic bent; Lanting observed them drumming on hollow baobab trees as a way of impressing potential mates and intimidating rivals.

It took several months for the Fongoli chimps to begin accepting Pruetz and Lanting, who says they wore the same clothes every day so that the animals could become accustomed to their presence.

On days that the chimps let their guard down, Lanting says, he and Pruetz were able to observe behaviors that "are all confirmation to the fact that the boundaries between humans and chimps are really quite fuzzy."

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