Wild chimp seen masturbating with man-made object for first time

A chimpanzee has been caught masturbating with a plastic bottle, as scientists say it is the first time a wild chimp has used a man-made object as a sex toy. 

Araali, a male chimpanzee living in Bulindi in western Uganda, was spotted placing his penis into a discarded plastic bottle and ‘thrusting’ into it in August 2018 – with the incident documented in a new research paper.

While captive chimps commonly masturbate – often due to stress or a lack of mates – researchers believe Araali may have derived ‘pleasure’ from his interaction with the bottle, or else was performing the activity for ‘fun’.

A male chimpanzee called Araali was seen masturbating with a plastic bottle in Uganda, which scientists believe is the first time a wild chimp has used a man-made object as a sex toy

Researchers Matthew McLennan and  Kim van Dijk, who were working with Bulindi Chimpanzees, posted the paper on Twitter earlier this month while quipping that ‘this is a paper I never thought we’d write’.

In it, they say they were observing a troop of 19 chimpanzees including three adult males, three subadult males, five adult females, one subadult female, and seven ‘immature’ chimps in 2018 when the ‘novel behaviour’ occurred.

On the day in question – August 13 – they had followed 11 of the chimps, including the alpha male and three adult females, to a shady thicket where they often went to rest.

Researchers said they heard a chimp playing with a plastic bottle before they moved in for a closer look and spotted Araali – a subadult male – ‘masturbating’ with it.

‘For 25 seconds he made pelvic thrusting movements into the bottle, which he had positioned flat on the ground in front of him,’ the paper says.

‘At times he showed a relaxed open-mouth expression or a “play face.”‘

At one point, they write, his penis fell out of the bottle so he repositioned it and ‘reinserted his penis.’ 

Araali, a male chimpanzee living in Bulindi in western Uganda, was spotted placing his penis into a discarded plastic bottle and 'thrusting' into it in August 2018 - with the incident documented in a new research paper

Araali, a male chimpanzee living in Bulindi in western Uganda, was spotted placing his penis into a discarded plastic bottle and ‘thrusting’ into it in August 2018 – with the incident documented in a new research paper

‘For the remaining 8 seconds of the recording, Araali sat with a play face, apparently with his penis still inside the bottle.’

When Araali finally lost interest in the bottle – apparently without ejaculating into it – some of the younger chimps began playing with it.

After 25 minutes, the researchers themselves lost interest and moved away from the troop – though returned the following evening to inspect the bottle.

They believe it was a herbicide bottle which had likely been discarded by a local farmer after it was used to spray crops.

While masturbation is rarer in wild chimps than in captive ones, researchers say it has been observed in males in the form of ‘fumbling’ with their genitals. 

Researchers say the bottle (pictured) is used to contain herbicide and was likely thrown away by a farmer

Researchers say the bottle (pictured) is used to contain herbicide and was likely thrown away by a farmer

Males have also used natural objects such as fruit or smooth stones to stimulate themselves – but this is the first time one has been seen using a man-made object. 

The scientists – from Oxford Brookes University, University of Exeter, and Utrecht University – say this is likely because the chimps they were studying live in close proximity to humans, and have some familiarity with man-made objects.

While most apes are either indifferent to or afraid of man-made objects, this tribe’s familiarity with them means they ‘elicit interest’. 

Masturbation in chimps is sometimes thought to help with competition in a tribe with several males by clearing out old or damaged sperm and improving a male’s chances of impregnating a female, the researchers add.

Another theory is that it may help relieve sexual urges in subordinate males who have little access to females in the tribe.

But they say neither theory quite fits Araali’s behaviour, which most-likely results from ‘his motivation to inspect and play with a novel human object.’

 ‘The physical properties of the open bottle presumably elicited Araali’s autoerotic response, suggesting he recognized its suitability for that purpose,’ they add.

‘Considering he exhibited a play face while “copulating” with the bottle indicates his masturbatory behaviour was “pleasurable” or “fun.”‘

Justifying their subject matter, the researchers conclude: ‘This unusual observation raises questions about the function of masturbation in male chimpanzees.

‘It contributes to an understanding of the range in behavioural responses of wild apes to novel objects.’

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