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Promethean beasts - Far from being hardwired to flee fire, some animals use it to their own ends, helping us understand our own pyrocognition

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  1. cfabbro
    The videos linked in the article are pretty neat too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RK1XfBDBuAM https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ORytPiIpZlA

    The videos linked in the article are pretty neat too:

    Black kites and other Australian raptors follow smoke trails and gather near wildfires in large numbers to hunt escaping insects, reptiles and mammals. Some of them even pick up burning embers and drop them elsewhere, which might increase their chances of catching a meal by causing animals to flee. The most complex fire-related behaviour in the wild, in fact, comes not from our primate cousins, but from our distant feathered relatives, with whom we share a last common ancestor some 320 million years ago. The unique behaviour of these ‘firehawks’ is featured in traditional Indigenous stories, which raises the possibility that humans learned to manage landscapes with fire by watching birds.


    We have recently started a study on a troop of Japanese macaques at the Japan Monkey Centre. In 1959, a typhoon hit the area and felled some trees in the outdoor macaque exhibit. Keepers set fire to the fallen trees to get heat in the winter season, and the macaques gathered around. Since then, bonfires are lit in their outdoor enclosure every winter. We don’t know much about the macaques’ response to the bonfire over the years, but they were described as calm and bold in 1962 and 1989. My project investigates their fire-related behaviour and pyrocognition in greater detail, with a particular focus on drawing parallels to how hominins might have started to interact with fire – long before the earliest archaeological evidence we have. For instance, we are examining whether the macaques use the fire for warmth, compete over access to it, relax near it, avoid smoke, and prefer to eat cooked food.