Seventeen Year Study Finds Chimps Like Getting Drunk

By McCarton Ackerman 06/11/15

Some apes were estimated to have consumed the equivalent to a bottle of wine.

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A new study has found that not only do chimpanzees enjoy drinking alcohol in a manner similar to humans, but they may also enjoy getting drunk to the point of intoxication.

The findings released by the Royal Society Open Science came from a 17-year study observing chimpanzees from the Republic of Guinea. It marks the first observations of repeated and habitual alcohol consumption by any wild ape.

Researchers showed the apes using leaves as sponges to drink raffia palm sap, which turns into alcohol when it ferments. The sap has an alcohol volume of 3%, roughly the equivalent of a light beer. Some of the individual apes were estimated to have consumed 85ml of alcohol per sitting, which is the equivalent to a bottle of wine.

Although the chimps consumed so much alcohol that they showed “visible signs of inebriation,” it’s not clear if they got drunk in the traditional human sense. However, this likely won’t become a regular habit because the chimps still need humans to facilitate their alcohol consumption.

“Raffia palm sap drinking is opportunistic,” noted the researchers. “[It relies] on a person having installed the specialized equipment to drain the sap from a mature palm.”

The groundbreaking findings also support the drunken monkey hypothesis, which suggests that a genetic mutation 10 million years ago gave human ancestors the enhanced ability to break down ethanol as they shifted to a terrestrial lifestyle.

But if the monkeys ever developed a drinking problem, substance abuse treatment for animals actually exists. Last July, four Indian elephants got clean from their opium addiction after an extensive stay in a Chinese rehab facility. They became addicted after heroin smugglers fed them opium-laced bananas in order to make them more docile, but sanctuary workers cured them with methadone.

The elephants have since been released back into the wild, with elephant breeder Chen Jiming confirming that “they are now reintegrated into elephant society and in some cases even have families of their own.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.