(IN PHOTO) Chimpanzees gather together in their compound at the Olmense Zoo in Olmen, Belgium, April 16, 2015. Reuters

A new study by scientists from Harvard University and Yale University concluded that chimpanzees have the cognitive ability to cook. The primates have patience and foresight to resist eating raw food and place the uncooked items in what appears to the chimps to be a cooking device.

The researchers point out that many species of primates would usually not give up food already in their hands. However, the chimps are willing to surrender a raw slice of sweet potato in exchange for a cooked slice later, the New York Times reports.

Since the chimps do not yet know how to use fire, the scientists used instead a “magic cooking device” made up of two plastic bowls fitted closely together. Pre-cooked food was hidden in the bowl on the bottom. The animal placed a raw slice of sweet potato into the device then the researcher shook it – the equivalent of cooking the sweet potato – and opened the device with a cooked slice similar to the uncooked one.

Dr Felix Warnneken of Harvard and Dr Alexandra Rosati of Yale, whose study was published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, conducted the experiment to find out if the chimps could understand “that when something raw goes in there it comes out cooked.” The researchers, who are a married couple, performed nine different experiments at the Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center in Congo.

Given the alternative, the chimps resisted eating the raw slice of sweet potato and placed it in the device to wait for cooked food. The findings showed that beside the patience for cooking, the chimps also have “minimal causal understanding they would need” to move from eating raw to cooking, Rosati said.

The two said the study aimed to shed light on the pace that cooking emerged among the early ancestors of humans. The science community is divided on the issue, with some scientists believing that cooking came after the early ancestors tapped fire for light and heat, while other researchers think it emerged after they learned to control fire, reports the Christian Science Monitor.

Given that the chimps displayed capability of spontaneous insights to solve cooking-related problems, it is evidence that the abilities came ahead of learning how to control fire, said Rosati. She stressed that they were not training the chimps to cook.

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