A video posted to YouTube by The Tai Chimp Project shows the heart-melting moment a chimpanzee is captured playing “airplane” with a juvenile chimp. Cue the “ahs” and “oohs” because this playful interaction is sure to make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
It’s not clear whether the adult chimp is the little one’s parent. What we do know is the 40-second clip is bringing us all back to some of our favorite childhood memories. The adult is seen balancing the toddler by its abdomen on the sole of one foot while holding onto its leg with the other. Turbulence ensues as the little one is rocked up and down and side to side before falling into the larger chimp’s loving, snuggly embrace.
Chimpanzees are our closest relatives and, just like us, they love to play. According to Conserve Nature, the primates use play to prepare for becoming an adult. The skills they develop through play translate into tools they’ll need as they get older, such as learning how to interact with other family members, use tools, feed, and defend themselves. For example, wrestling will help a group decide where someone fits in their social hierarchy while playing with sticks teaches them how to fish for termites when they get older.
Just like people, young chimps prefer to play with partners rather than alone, and learning to read facial expressions helps them to communicate and build social networks. That’s not where the similarities end, either. Young female chimps in Uganda have been observed more than 100 times over 14 years of study using sticks as rudimentary dolls and caring for them much like the group’s mothers do in real time. A captive chimpanzee was once recorded playing the drums – a skill that is nearly unheard of in other species (take a listen because that rhythm is seriously impressive).
It’s not all fun and games. In all seriousness, chimpanzees have outplayed humans in brain games, exhibiting incredible talent when it comes recalling patterns observed for a split second, prompting some researchers to claim chimpanzees have a photographic memory. In a 2013 study, chimps outsmarted humans in a two-player video game testing which species can better predict their opponent’s next move. Their results suggest chimps have a much better memory and strategy when it comes to humans, a skill that could translate to how they match up to fighting opponents in the wild.