PRETORIA – Scientists said Wednesday they were surprised to witness a chimpanzee and an orangutan swimming in water — a skill that primates were thought to have lost long ago.
Evolutionary researchers Renato and Nicole Bender made the astonishing observation while filming primates raised in captivity in the U.S.
“We were extremely surprised when the chimp, Cooper, dived repeatedly into a swimming pool in Missouri and seemed to feel very comfortable,” said Renato Bender from the South African University of the Witwatersrand’s School of Anatomical Sciences. “It was very surprising behavior for an animal that is thought to be very afraid of water.”
Many zoos use water moats to confine chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans, and the apes often drown when venturing into deep water.
Humans and apes don’t swim naturally and have to learn — unlike the majority of mammals, which instinctively use the so-called dog-paddle. Human-raised Cooper used a leg movement similar to the “frog kick” we use in the breaststroke, Bender said.