Skip to content

Chimpanzees Doing Puzzles Just for Fun

By Russell Tenofsky

Adult chimpanzees at the Whipsnade Zoo in England have been working out complicated brainteaser puzzles just for the fun of doing them.

Photo of Phil, a chimpanzee, working on puzzles in a cage.

In a new study published in the American Journal of Primatology, researchers gave a family of six chimpanzees living at the zoo, as part of their normal daily enrichment program, a complex system of connected pipes with red dice inside. Scientists concocted the system to model the method they use to fish for termites and honey. The point of the ā€œgameā€, which was entirely voluntary, was to push the dice through the tubes and out the other end.

As you may have guessed, the chimpanzees successfully used sticks as tools to coerce the dice through the tubes. Their success continued even as the scientists made the puzzles more complicated. Researchers also inserted Brazil nuts into the tubes instead of dice so that the chimpanzees could get a reward for completing the puzzle.

The scientistsā€™ data began to show something seemingly unlikely. As one of the researchers, Fay Clark, said to Science Daily, “We noticed that the chimps were keen to complete the puzzle regardless of whether or not they received a food reward. This strongly suggests they get similar feelings of satisfaction to humans who often complete brain games for a feel-good reward.”

Apparently, there are some chimpanzees who, like us humans who routinely rack our brains over the crossword or Sudoku every morning, like to complete puzzles for just the mental challenge itself.

Note: The Nonhuman Rights Project does not endorse experimentation on captive animals. However, we do quote the results of these experiments when they help make the case that the animals have a level of sentience, self-awareness, and, in some cases, a theory of mind that demonstrates that we should not keep them in captivity in the first place.

Sign up to receive the latest updates on our mission

Find out about opportunities to get involved, breaking news in our cases and campaigns, and more.