Chimpanzees look both ways before crossing the street, researchers find

Many human pedestrians could learn a thing or two about road safety from chimpanzees in Uganda.

Ugandan chimps also wait for other members of group before venturing onto roadway, researchers say

Surprisingly, since chimps usually eat food immediately, they were often willing to walk across a room to 'cook' a piece of sweet potato using a fake cooker. (iStock)

Human pedestrians could learn a thing or two about road safety from chimpanzees in Uganda, a new study suggests.

Almost all chimpanzees crossing the street in Kibale National Park look both ways before stepping onto the roadway and while they're crossing, French and Ugandan researchers report.

When crossing in a group, many chimps watched and waited for other members of their party before continuing over to the other side, reported the study led by Marie Cibot of the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle in Paris,

Some of those precautions can be seen in video footage of the chimps shot by the researchers and posted online by New Scientist.

Cibot and her colleagues observed 122 chimpanzees over 29 months crossing a road in a part of the park where about 89 vehicles zoom by each hour. They observed a number of street-smart practices among the chimps:

  • More than 90 per cent looked both left and right before and during crossing.
  • Individuals crossed more quickly when travelling in a larger group.
  • More than 20 per cent checked on other members of their group or waited for them while crossing.
  • Those that might have more trouble crossing, such as mothers with babies and injured chimps, tended to avoid crossing the street.
  • Those that crossed the road most often — healthy males — led groups across the road more often than they led groups in other situations.

Despite the chimpanzees' skill at crossing, the researchers suggested that the road still has impacts. At the study site, members of six other primate species were run over in one year. The road could also have an impact on how chimpanzees spread out and use different territories, the researchers said.

The study was published online in the American Journal of Primatology earlier this month.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?