Adorable new footage from the Taï Chimpanzee Project is, coincidentally, backed by recent research comparing human toddlers and chimp "language"

By Saryn Chorney
September 28, 2018 01:39 PM

“It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s … Super-Chimp?!”

Whoever these two cuties are, they’ve caught the attention of the Internet — and the world.

This incredible video, uploaded to YouTube on Aug. 8 by the Tai Chimp Project in Taï National Park, Cote d’Ivoire, captures a uniquely intimate moment between an adult and a baby chimpanzee.

Since 1979, the nonprofit organization based in Leipzig, Germany, has been devoted to research on and conservation of this most human-like of primate species. “Recently, comparisons of behavior patterns seen at Taï with those exhibited in other chimpanzee populations all over Africa have led to the recognition of chimpanzee culture, an attribute previously restricted to humans,” reports the Taï Chimp Project website.

On that note, new research published in the science journal Animal Cognition on Sept. 8 found incredible similarities between young chimpanzees and human babies and toddlers. According to the study by University of St. Andrews, University of Neuchatel, University of Göttingen and University of Hamburg researchers, children between the ages of 1 and 2 years old — and their young chimp counterparts — use a remarkable number of the same communicative gestures.

In total, it’s been found that great apes may use at least 80 distinct gestures to communicate, as listed in the Great Ape Dictionary. Researchers found that human children “used 52 gestures to communicate, [many] of which are shared with chimpanzees and gorillas,” reports the University of St. Andrews. In fact, 46 of those human child gestures (89 percent) are present in chimpanzee’s range of signaled body language.

While wild chimpanzee, gorilla, bonobo and orangutan communication gestures have all been studied by scientists in the past, “there was always one ape missing from the picture – us,” says one of the new study’s authors, Dr. Catherine Hobaiter of St. Andrews. “We used exactly the same approach to study young chimpanzees and children, which makes sense – children are just tiny apes.”

Gestures the researchers looked at include touch, clap, embrace, head shake, object shake, stomp, rocking and tap, among others.

Certain gestures we’re all familiar with, such as reaching out one’s palm to ask for something or raising a hand in the air, are used by both children and young chimps and other apes. However, others — like pointing and waving hello or goodbye — are unique to humans.

Overall, it seems that in addition to great apes and humans sharing a common evolutionary ancestor 5 to 6 millions years ago, we also share a similar background when it comes to early communication and language development.

And, as the video above shows, young chimps and young humans also share an appreciation of tender, touch-focused games like “airplane” with their elders. Perhaps even more so than verbal cues of love, physical gestures such as this communicate just how alike our different species really are.