“Chimpanzee fire” is a name given to bioluminescent fungus that grows in some of the forests chimps live; giving off an eerie green glow that might make it seem like the apes have cracked the secret to wildfire. But can chimps start real fires? In the wild, no; but Kanzi – a bonobo who has spent essentially his whole life with humans, and previously famous on this blog for learning how to make stone tools – has been trained to use matches.
I can already hear you dismissing his achievement. “Surely matches make it easy” I hear you say. Don’t be so rash to ignore this. Aside from the matches he receives no outside help. He identifies and gathers appropriate kindling all by himself, breaks it to make it burn easier and builds a good fire before striking a match – using incredible levels of dexterity – and lighting it. Although I did tell a little lie, he receives some help: his keepers give him marshmellows. Which he spears on a stick and cooks on the fire! Just watch the video below it’s very impressive.
The clip itself is taken from Monkey Planet, a recent BBC documentary about (contrary to what the title might suggest) apes, monkeys and prosimians around the world. It’s an excellent show that really captures just how innovative our closest relatives can be. If you have a chance to see it I would highly recommend it. A couple of episodes are still up on iPlayer (including the one with Kanzi), if you can access that.