One thing we generally don’t learn in science classes is that the psychology and neurology of animals is poorly understood. But as we’re exploring how they interact with their environment, we’re learning far more about how they engage with the world around them. And also, in the case of the chimpanzee, that Planet of the Apes was more realistic than we thought.
We’ve seen apes cook their food before, but what’s curious about the discovery scientists made at the Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Sanctuary is that chimpanzees can delay their gratification. If you’ve ever owned a dog, you know most animals eat pretty much anything put in front of them, the minute you put it in front of them. But these chimps, when faced with a potato they could eat raw, or stick in an “oven” to roast it, went for the baked potato almost every time. They preferred it so much, they’d actually keep the raw potatoes when the researchers left with the “cooker” and wait for them to come back.
We’re not going to see a special all-chimp episode of Chopped any time soon, as amazing as that would be. Chimps don’t generally cook their food because most of what they eat doesn’t improve when you cook it. There’s also a social dynamic to cooking that chimps may be unwilling to engage in, considering we’re talking about a species that will kill their own young in front of an audience. But they have the mental capacity to both understand the difference between raw and cooked food, and to realize cooked food is better, and that may tell us more about how we evolved and why we cook. We also can start the long arduous process of training chimpanzee chefs; that episode of Chopped isn’t going to film itself.