London: Bonobos, or pygmy chimpanzees who are
considered one of our closest relatives, shake their heads to
"say no" in the same way that humans do, according to a new
For the first time, the great apes were filmed moving
their heads from side to side as they stopped others from
performing a task they were not happy with.
In one film a mother is seen shaking her head to stop her
infant climbing a tree, while in another, a bonobo shakes its
head at a colleague trying to steal its food.
Scientists, who recorded this behaviour on camera,
believe this may reflect an early precursor to head-shaking
behaviour amongst humans, the Telegraph reported.
"In bonobos, our observations are the first reported use
of preventive head-shaking," said Christel Schneider from the
Max Planck Institute, Germany.
Schneider said the videos captured at Leipzig Zoo in
Germany show a bonobo mother shaking her head in disapproval
when her infant plays with some food.
"Ulindi, tried to stop her infant, Luiza, from playing
with a piece of leek," she said.
"Since Luiza took no notice despite repeated attempts to
stop her, Ulindi finally shakes her head towards the infant."
Ulindi eventually throws the leek away whilst the infant
still tries to reach for it, according to the researchers, who
published their findings in the journal Primates.
African great apes such as bonobos (Pan paniscus) and
chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) are known to use head gestures
such as nodding, bowing and shaking to communicate with other
However, this is the first study to film and observe an
ape shaking its head in a negative context to stop or prevent
other bonobo behaviour.
For this research on the communication of great ape
infants, the scientists used video recordings to study the
gestures and behaviour of bonobos, chimpanzees, gorillas and
orang-utans in six European zoos.
During the study, they witnessed four individual bonobos
shaking their heads in this way on 13 different occasions.
Previously only anecdotal reports have noted individual
chimpanzees shaking their head to signal `no`.
The researchers believe that bonobos use a wide range of
head gestures compared to chimpanzees, and are considered to
be more sophisticated at using their head to signal meaning.
Such sophisticated communication systems may emerge
because of the apparently tolerant, co-operative and
egalitarian societies that bonobos live in, with their diffuse
hierarchies and complex social structures.
In this way, bonobos may have developed the preventive
head-shake to say "no" and negotiate conflict situations, the
However, they described the results as "intriguing" and
admitted that additional data was needed before drawing firm