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SCIENCE

German researchers find out apes can tell when humans are wrong

Orangutans, chimpanzees and bonobos are the nearest relatives of humans in the primate world, and like us, they can tell when a person is wrong in their beliefs, researchers said Wednesday.

German researchers find out apes can tell when humans are wrong
An Orangutan. Photo: DPA

Great apes were also willing to help a person who was mistaken about the location of an object, according to the study in the journal PLOS ONE.

“This study shows for the first time that great apes can use an understanding of false beliefs to help others appropriately,” said by David Buttelmann from Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Germany.

Researchers used a test developed for human babies, about 18 months of age, to determine if they could understand when a person held a false belief – a mark of advanced social cognition.

A person would place an object on one of two boxes, while a great ape looked on.

For some of the tests, the original person would step away, while another person took the object out of the box and put it into another box.

When the original person came back, they tried to open the first box, where they believed the object to be, not realizing it had been moved.

This was known as the “false-belief” portion of the study. For other parts, the person stayed in the room and could see when the object was moved.

A total of 34 great apes – chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans – took part in the research at the Leipzig Zoo in Germany.

In the false belief portion, the apes chose the correct box significantly more often than chance.

Researchers also discovered that great apes, like human infants, “were more likely to help the person find the object when he had a false belief about which box the object was in,” said the report.

Until now, researchers believed great apes did not have this capacity to understand the intent of people, or to “read minds,” so to speak.

“Apes are able to use this understanding in their social interactions,” concluded the study.

“If supported by further research, the apparent difference between great ape and human social cognition would thus lie not in their basic capacity to 'read' other minds, but elsewhere.”

ENVIRONMENT

‘Save the cheeky but peaceful sow’: Berliners protest culling of wild boar

Berliners are protesting - online and in person - against the possible culling of a peaceful pig dubbed Elsa who gained worldwide fame for stealing a nudist's laptop bag as a chase ensued.

'Save the cheeky but peaceful sow': Berliners protest culling of wild boar
A wild boar and its babies in Springe, Lower Saxony. Photo: DPA

Berlin, and the world, was pleasantly enlivened by social media images of a nude sunbather chasing after a wild boar who had stolen his laptop bag.

READ ALSO: Only in Germany: Wild boar steals laptop from naked Berlin sunbather

Yet the laughing mood was dampened when Berlin’s forestry service announced last week that the boar and its two youngsters could be part of an annual cull in order to keep the species’ numbers down and protect people from diseases they might carry. 

Berliners have now protested –  and on Sunday organised a “demo against the shooting of the wild boar family from the Teufelssee”.

An online petition was also set up under the title “Save the cheeky but peaceful sow from the Teufelssee,” and collected almost 10,000 signatures at the time of writing. 

About a dozen people showed up to Sunday’s protest in front of Berlin’s Forestry Office in Grunewald. 

They kept their distance, wore masks, and held up signs that read “Have a heart for this wild boar family”.

“The animals did not harm anyone and the laptop also came back to its owner,” wrote protest organisers. “There is no reason to kill the animals.”

The boar family is apparently known to bathers, and even made an appearance at the lake in Berlin's Grunewald in the week following its social media fame.

Adele Landauer, the Berlin-based life coach who originally took the pictures and shared with the man’s permission, spotted the boar family again on August 9th, and wrote that the creatures did not do any harm to those around them

“No one really cared much because they all felt comfortable with each other,” she wrote.

Wild boar babies playing around in Ravensburg, Baden-Württemberg. Photo: DPA

'Appropriate measures'

However, Berlin state forestry office spokesman Marc Franusch told AFP the boar and her babies could be culled when the hunting season begins in October.

They would not be shot immediately because it is the wrong time of year, Franusch said – but the agency will be keeping an eye on them.

“If there are special dangers for humans or animals in places such as the bathing area at Teufelssee (lake), appropriate measures must be taken to avert these dangers,” he said.

Wild boars are regularly culled by licensed hunters in Berlin and the rest of Germany to keep numbers down and to fend off diseases such as African swine fever.

Every year, 1,000 to 2,000 wild boars are shot in Berlin.

The population in Berlin alone is estimated to hover around 3,000, with sightings are becoming more common.

READ ALSO: 'No longer fearful': How wild boars are thriving in Berlin

They often venture into residential areas looking for food, as appeared to be the case during the incident last week, and have been known to attack humans.

“Many of us were scared but the wild boars seemed to be peaceful,” Landauer, the Berlin-based life coach, wrote as she shared photos of the animals on Instagram two weeks ago. 

“After they ate a pizza from a backpack of a man who was taking a swim in the lake they were looking for a dessert. They found this yellow bag and decided to take it away.”

Franusch urged people visiting the lake to avoid leaving food or rubbish behind, as this would only encourage the creatures.

With reporting from AFP.

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