Chimpanzee and Orangutan Able to Learn to Swim

Chimpanzee and Orangutan Able to Learn how to Swim

Hominoid apes are known to lack the instinctive capability to swim. In Zoos it sometimes happens that they drown when they accidentally get caught in a water ditch. Nevertheless, two researchers, Renato Bender from the University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa) and Nicole Bender from the University of Bern (Switzerland), have now for the first time been able to document a male chimpanzee and a male orangutan breaststroke-like swimming around in a pool. The monkeys observed have both grown up in human environment and their cross-foster parents have taught them how to swim.


“We were extremely surprised when the chimpanzee “Cooper” plunged several times, in the pool in Missouri, and it seemed that he was feeling at ease,” said Nicole Bender. The orangutan Suryia, who lives in a private Zoo in South Carolina, is even able to freely swim up to 12 meters.

These observations indicate that the difference in the aquatic behavior between humans, who like to be in contact with water, compared to apes, who try to avoid it, seems to be rather derived from environmental adaptation than from physiological preconditions. All other terrestrial mammals show dog like paddle movements. This new finding therefore reinforces the hypothesis of common ancestry, indicating that the breaststroke-like movement in water might only be possible due to former live in trees.

The reference article was published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

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