Priscilla and Billie, along with at least one of their daughters, are the first in any pig species to be identified using tools and, even more remarkably, to apparently transmit this behavior through social learning.
KARINNA HURLEY: ‘Tool use was long believed to be unique to our species—a defining feature, like language. Utilizing objects to achieve goals is not just a demonstration of advanced cognitive capabilities; it is largely through our symbolic and material tools that we share and transmit culture.
In 1960 primatologist Jane Goodall observed wild chimpanzees making and using tools. A connection between humans and other animals, in how we think and learn, was captivating news. Since then, scientists have gone on to establish tool use in a relatively small number of other species. And observations of learning to use a tool from other group members, rather than instinctively, have been even more rare—until now…
The Jardin des Plantes is also home to a special couple, Priscilla and Billie. Along with at least one of their daughters, these Visayan warty pigs—residents of the garden’s zoo—are the first in any pig species to be identified using tools and, even more remarkably, to apparently transmit this behavior through social learning.
The discovery was made by chance by ecologist Meredith Root-Bernstein, who was watching the family from outside its enclosure. Priscilla, working on building a nest, picked up a piece of bark in her mouth and used it to aid her digging. For six weeks Root-Bernstein frequently returned to the zoo to try to again catch her in the act. Although she didn’t do so, she did notice the digging tool moved among different areas of the enclosure and always near a recently constructed nest.
Intrigued, Root-Bernstein, together with her colleagues, set up a series of observations to understand if Priscilla and the other pigs were indeed using sticks and bark as tools and, if so, under what conditions. The results from the project were published in September… This result is significant because in other species, it is usually not the dominant members who are credited with innovation. Across observations, Priscilla seemed to be the tool-use star, leading the authors to believe that she can be credited with first using the bark and sticks as tools, a behavior that was then social transmitted to the other family members’. SOURCE…