‘The boozing starts from 7am. Though large amounts are often drunk, the sessions are orderly, even sociable. A skinful later, and always before nightfall, enough is enough and they rest.’ (The Guardian 10 June)
No - not a typical Brits abroad scandal but instead, the chimpanzees of Bossou, south-eastern Guinea, and their secret is finally out. Scientists have been assiduously studying man’s closest relatives for 17 years before declaring the troop the first wild chimpanzees to indulge in regular, habitual drinking.
The action, captured on video, centred around raffia palms. Local communities harvest sugary sap from the trees, which ferments into a rich, alcoholic brew in hours. To extract the sweet, white sap, tappers cut a wedge in the tree and suspend a container beneath. They leave it there to fill and lay leaves over the top to keep the bugs out. In a few weeks, a single tree can yield 50 litres of sap.
One male, named Foaf, was a regular imbiber, appearing in 14 of the 51 sessions observed. He was an outlier though. Of the 26 apes observed, 13 were apparently teetotal.
The all-too-human behaviour adds weight to the “drunken monkey hypothesis”, which states that natural selection favoured primates with a taste for alcohol, because it stimulated the appetite, helped them hunt for fruit and so boosted calorific intake. About 10 million years ago, our ancestors – and those of apes – gained a genetic mutation that improved 40-fold our ability to break down ethanol. Without it, consuming large amounts would be even more dangerous.
Scientists have used this observational method of study to give us a truly accurate picture of our evolving world and it seems that each week there is new evidence uncovered which helps explain many things that assumption alone can’t provide.
In our busy human world of interactions, organisations struggle to understand customer behaviours, perplexed by the fact that what we say and do are often very different things. Think of the recent election, where the pollsters and the actual results were poles apart. And of course the situation we are in dictates how we will behave differently depending on a whole (and growing) range of factors, depending on the device we have, what reception we have, whether we are at home or on holiday, and whether we are buying or complaining. All too often we make assumptions about preferences groups of people may have, often based on single incidences which may well not relate to choice but to what is available at that time.
Whilst it is impractical for organisations to spend 17 years scientifically monitoring consumer behaviour; we now have the luxury of a rich tapestry of real-time information which is readily available from many different sources. The trick of course is deciding what matters, and being brave enough not to react to disproportionate voices, which can steer decision makers off course if there isn't a robust balancing mechanism in place.
For example, when deciding on introducing new channels, or altering existing offerings, a dry run is needed to cover as many situations as possible with as many groups of users as is practical. Critically the end to end experience should be considered with as many possible outcomes as can be imagined.
The big four supermarkets failed to notice consumers’ changing buying behaviours shifting to online and discounted stores, and the ultimate impact on bottom-line results for the traditional brands was inevitable. There are numerous examples of transitions which are brilliant in principle but have some unintended consequences in real life - this shouldn't deter innovation but encourage us to learn quickly from each experience.
Back to our chimp cousins, researchers have discovered that they apparently also prefer hot food, if it was an option, so who knows what else will be uncovered by these dedicated scientists. The lesson learned though is that just because some chimps like a tipple, it doesn't mean that they all do!