Students Go Climbing in the Footsteps of Chimpanzees

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Dartmouth’s Kes Schroer has taken her students on an unusual adventure “in order to put themselves into the mind of a chimpanzee,” she says. “Chimpanzees provide a critical counterpoint for understanding the potential uniqueness of human behaviors.”

Students in Kes Schroer's anthropology class

Students in Kes Schroer’s anthropology class “Your Inner Chimpanzee” record their climbing speeds. (Photo by Eli Burakian ’00)

Taking experiential learning to new heights, Schroer shepherded her class into the Daniels Climbing Gym. Enrolled in her course “Your Inner Chimpanzee,” they sought to emulate the experience of our cousins, with whom we share 98.8 percent of our DNA.

At Daniels, the students took to the climbing walls, scaling them in a manner somewhat less adroit than a chimpanzee’s. Schroer, a Neukom Institute Fellow in Computational Sciences and Anthropology, says climbing walls can help students see the world from a chimpanzee’s perspective and think about how adaptations serve these apes in their arboreal forest environments.

(view the slideshow below, or on Dartmouth’s Flickr channel)

The chimpanzees’ view of the environment is shaped by how they move, where they go, and what they see, says Schroer. “We are taking a critical look at the locomotor differences between humans, who usually walk, and chimps, who usually climb, and how these different patterns of locomotion affect behavior.”

“A chimpanzee could shoot up there in two seconds,” says D. Patrick Campbell ’15. “I think they can really walk up with their arms. This shows how really hard it is for us.”

“It is a very obvious comparison that you would never really get to test out otherwise,” says Osa Ekhator ’15.