Darwin on animal tool use

Next time you hear that everybody knew that humans were the only toolmaker before Jane Goodall showed otherwise:

It has often been said that no animal uses any tool; but the chimpanzee in a state of nature cracks a native fruit, somewhat like a walnut, with a stone.23 Rengger24 easily taught an American monkey thus to break open hard palm-nuts, and afterwards of its own accord it used stones to open other kinds of nuts, as well as boxes. It thus also removed the soft rind of fruit that had a disagreeable flavour. Another monkey was taught to open the lid of a large box with a stick, and afterwards it used the stick as a lever to move heavy bodies; and I have myself seen a young orang put a stick into a crevice, slip his hand to the other end, and use it in the proper manner as a lever. In the cases just mentioned stones and sticks were employed as implements; but they are likewise used as weapons. Brehm25 states, on the authority of the well-known traveller Schimper, that in Abyssinia when the baboons belonging to one species (C. gelada) descend in troops from the mountains to plunder the fields, they sometimes encounter troops of another species (C. hamadryas), and then a fight ensues. The Geladas roll down great stones, which the Hamadryas try to avoid, and then both species, making a great uproar, rush furiously against each other. Brehm, when accompanying the Duke of Coburg-Gotha, aided in an attack with fire-arms on a troop of baboons in the pass of Mensa in Abyssinia. The baboons in return rolled so many stones down the mountain, some as large as a man's head, that the attackers had to beat a hasty retreat; and the pass was actually for a time closed against the caravan. It deserves notice that these baboons thus acted in concert. Mr. Wallace26 on three occasions saw female orangs, accompanied by their young, "breaking off branches and the great spiny fruit of the Durian tree, with every appearance of rage; causing such a shower of missiles as effectually kept us from approaching too near the tree."

That's Darwin (1871:51-52), in The Descent of Man. The footnotes are below.

For Darwin, it was important to establish that some non-human primates were capable of complicated behaviors and learning. Tool use and manipulation in other animals provided the possibility of evolutionary intermediates between apes and humans. In characteristic fashion, Darwin is able to bring in a range of observations from different species, some of them obscure (see notes).

The baboon stoning story seemed extreme to me, compared to what I had read about baboons, but Hamilton, Buskirk and Buskirk (1975) describe a very similar scenario:

Anecdotal reports of stone throwing by baboons have been dismissed on the basis of the unreliability of correspondents and the improbability of oriented throwing by a quadruped anatomically incapable of overhand throwing. In spite of several years of field study elsewhere in Africa, often in rocky terrain, there are no reports by professional field observers of deliberate stone throwing by baboons.
Nevertheless, in the course of a one-year study of three chacma baboon (Papio ursinus) troops living on the desert floor of the Kuiseb Canyon in South West Africa we observed numerous instances of stone release directed toward us.
Stoning by these baboons is done from the rocky walls of the canyon where they sleep and retreat when they are threatened by real or imagined predators. STones are lifted with one hand and dropped over the side. The stone tubles down the side of the cliff or falls directly to the canyon floor. We recorded the details of 23 such incidents involving the voluntary release of 124 stones towards us.
This frequently resulted in stones whizzing over our heads. usually we could dodge; but occasionally two or more individuals release stones at approximately the same time, complicating evasion. (Hamilton et al. 1975:488).

That doesn't sound quite as intense as the episode Darwin described, but definitely in the same neighborhood. A few words about Brehm's trip to Abyssinia can be found in his Wikipedia entry; the duke in question was Ernst II, Queen Victoria's brother-in-law.

I figure having rocks thrown at you by a baboon definitely beats bombardment by durian fruit.

Darwin's footnotes:

23 Savage and Wyman in 'Boston Journal of Nat. Hist.' vol. iv. 1843-44, p. 383.
24 'Säugethiere von Paraguay,' 1830, s. 51-56.
25 'Thierleben,' B. i. s. 79, 82.
26 'The Malay Archipelago,' vol. i. 1869, p. 87.


Darwin C. 1871. The descent of man and selection in relation to sex. John Murray, London.

Hamilton WJ, Buskirk RE, Buskirk WH. 1975. Defensive stoning by baboons. Nature 256:488-489. doi:10.1038/256488a0