Scientists decode chimp gestures

Led by Dr Catherine Hobaiter from the University of St Andrews, the research team studied and filmed chimp communities in Uganda. They analysed over 5,000 exchanges between the primates, and found that a “vocabulary” of 66 gestures was used to express 19 particular messages.

“The big message [from the study] is that there is another species out there that is meaningful in its communication, so that’s not unique to humans.”

“But then chimps are more closely related to us than they are to the rest of the great apes, so it makes sense that we are incredibly similar to them in many ways.”

Here are some examples of the gestures the team witnessed:

  • To signal “groom me here please”, one chimp would offer an area of their body to another, like an arm or their back.
  • To get a chimp to move over, one would gently nudge another with their knuckles to say “budge up!”
  • If the chimps wanted to flirt with eachother, the would tear leaves with their teeth.
  • Adult chimps would tell youngsters to “climb on my back” by showing them the sole of their foot.