Study Shows Wild Chimps Enjoy a Stiff Drink

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Chimps: They're just like us. Not only do they prefer their food cooked and are picky about their beds, they also like a nice glass of wine. Or, at least, a goblet of naturally fermented tree sap. A new study published earlier this week in Royal Society Open Science shows that chimps actively seek out booze.

The research involved 17 years of tracking chimps who lived near the village of Bossou in Guinea, where locals regularly collect sap from raffia palms by tapping the trees and leaving containers out to collect the slow-dripping sap all day. This particular sap naturally ferments into wine. Scientists were curious to know if this made it especially attractive to nearby chimps. While monkeys have been known to snag fruity cocktails from island resorts, this is the first deliberate study of its kind.

During the study, led by anthropologist Kimberley Hockings of Oxford Brookes University, researchers noted 51 different instances of chimps deliberately imbibing. When the coast was clear of people, the chimps would approach the trees, fashion a sturdy leaf into a makeshift goblet, and drink up, averaging 9 swigs per minute.

Unfortunately, with this sort of field research there are a number of uncontrolled variables. It's not clear if the chimps were after the alcohol or the sugar, or if they even got a buzz off the boozy beverage.

"On one occasion that I observed, the chimpanzees rested immediately after drinking the palm wine, which struck us at the time as a likely effect of the [drink]," Hockings told NPR's The Salt. "Although it's tricky to conclude it was because of the ethanol."

"This is a comprehensive assessment of a frequent occurrence that involves not one, or two, but many perpetrators," says Robert Dudley, an physiologist at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of The Drunken Monkey: Why We Drink and Abuse Alcohol, who was not involved in the research. "It's super important to document anything going on with the great apes, particularly something related to modern human behaviors."

Studies of chimp behavior often have implications for our understanding of early humans and what distinguishes us from our closest species relatives. Although further research is necessary, this study could help us to understand why and when humans developed an attraction to alcohol. Plus, this opens up the door for tipsy chimp videos.

[h/t The Salt]

While monkey have been known to snag fruity cocktails from island resorts, but this represents the first deliberate study of its kind.