Letters to Nature

Nature 399, 682-685 (17 June 1999) | doi:10.1038/21415; Received 24 March 1999; Accepted 11 May 1999

Cultures in chimpanzees

A. Whiten1, J. Goodall2, W. C. McGrew3, T. Nishida4, V. Reynolds5, Y. Sugiyama6, C. E. G. Tutin7,8, R. W. Wrangham9 & C. Boesch10

  1. Scottish Primate Research Group, School of Psychology, University of St Andrews, St Andrews KY16 9JU, UK
  2. Gombe Stream Research Centre, P.O. Box 185, Kigoma, Tanzania
  3. Department of Zoology and Department of Sociology, Gerontology and Anthropology, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio 45056, USA
  4. Laboratory of Human Evolution Studies, Kyoto University, Kyoto 606-01, Japan
  5. Institute of Biological Anthropology, Oxford University, 58 Banbury Road, Oxford OX2 6QS, UK
  6. Primate Research Institute, Kyoto University, Inuyama 484-8506, Japan
  7. Centre Internationale de Recherche Médicales de Franceville, BP 769 Franceville, Gabon
  8. Department of Biological Sciences, University of Stirling, Stirling FK9 4LA, UK
  9. Department of Anthropology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachussetts 02138, USA
  10. Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Insellstrasse 22, 04301 Leipzig, Germany

Correspondence to: A. Whiten1 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to A.W.

As an increasing number of field studies of chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) have achieved long-term status across Africa, differences in the behavioural repertoires described have become apparent that suggest there is significant cultural variation1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. Here we present a systematic synthesis of this information from the seven most long-term studies, which together have accumulated 151 years of chimpanzee observation. This comprehensive analysis reveals patterns of variation that are far more extensive than have previously been documented for any animal species except humans8, 9, 10, 11. We find that 39 different behaviour patterns, including tool usage, grooming and courtship behaviours, are customary or habitual in some communities but are absent in others where ecological explanations have been discounted. Among mammalian and avian species, cultural variation has previously been identified only for single behaviour patterns, such as the local dialects of song-birds12,13. The extensive, multiple variations now documented for chimpanzees are thus without parallel. Moreover, the combined repertoire of these behaviour patterns in each chimpanzee community is itself highly distinctive, a phenomenon characteristic of human cultures14 but previously unrecognised in non-human species.