Monkey bars

JUKEBOX Imaging: Deni Lal

Our closest living relatives just got a lot closer. Apparently, chimpanzees in Africa have been voluntarily consuming ethanol for a long time. The 17-year study, published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, recorded chimps using leaves to drink fermented palm sap.

In Guinea, where the research took place, scientists saw chimpanzees climbing trees to drink the naturally fermented palm sap. Bereft of fancy glasses, the chimps would chew a bunch of leaves and mash them into absorbent sponges. They would then dip these in the liquid, suck on them and 'kick' off the party.

The sap had about 3.1 to 6.9 per cent alcohol, which is about as much as in a beer. And, the chimps drank about a litre of sap in one sitting.

The scientists filmed the “drinking sessions” and found that the effects of alcohol were similar to those in humans. Of course, no life-altering decisions were made, but the chimps did doze off shortly after tippling. “One adult male was particularly restless, and spent an hour moving from tree to tree in an agitated manner,” said a researcher.

Another recent US study said humans and African apes shared a genetic mutation that helped them break down ethanol and digest overripe and fermenting fruit. Cheers to that!

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