A new study published in the Royal Society Open Science has concluded that after a 17-year research period that chimpanzees like to get drunk. Well, not precisely that, but instead that the chimps in the study would regularly drink the sap from a plant, which was fermented. This fermentation would ultimately cause the chimps to act inebriated, just like humans do when they have had a few too many alcoholic drinks enter their system.
Dr Kimberley Hockings of Oxford Brookes University pointed out that, “[They] displayed behavioural signs of inebriation, including falling asleep shortly after drinking. On another occasion after drinking palm wine, one adult male chimpanzee seemed particularly restless.” This is interesting because it gives a rather human quality to chimps that did consume the alcoholic sap. However, she went on to point out that, “While other chimpanzees were making and settling into their night nests, he spent an additional hour moving from tree to tree in an agitated manner. Again pure speculation, but it’s certainly something we would like to collect further data on in the future.”
While that might have just been a look at one particular member of the study, this speaks to something larger that scientists have been trying to prove and establish for decades. Professor Richard Byrne of the University of St. Andrews pointed out that there is a gene at play here that likely caused what the team saw with the chimps. He said that the gene, “opened access to good energy sources – all that simple sugar – that were accidentally ‘protected’ by noxious alcohol.”
At this point though scientists want to take a look at the behavior more closely. Dr Catherine Hobaiter pointed out that, “It would be fascinating to investigate the [behavior] in more detail: do chimps compete over access to the alcohol? Or do those who drank enough to show ‘behavioral signs of inebriation’ have a bit of a slow day in the shade the next morning?”
That would provide one of the most interesting looks into the chimp world that anyone has ever had to date. In fact, that would really put scientists in a strange place in terms of determining their behaviors, if they are in fact driven by alcohol, or competing over the locations where alcohol is more dominant. At that point though, scientists can also take a closer look at how gender plays a role in this, as the team already pointed out that males seemed to be more likely to seek out the alcohol, rather than females to seek out the alcohol. It’s strange how something that seemed like an accidental occurrence at first, really turned into something that appeared to be done intentionally.
Kimberley Hockings, the lead author of the study pointed out that, “I was fascinated by this behaviour. To harvest the palm wine, chimpanzees at Bossou use a leafy tool as a spongy drinking vessel,” and she certainly wasn’t alone, as most people have responded with astonishment. The team found that the sap ranged between 3.1 to 6.9 percent alcohol, which would be similar to a can or bottle of beer here in the U.S. Males accounted for 34 of the 51 instances of drinking alcohol.