Show Details

Tree-Climbing People

January 9, 2013

The Twa people of Uganda climb trees with ease. A new study suggests that the trait may be the result of practical necessity.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

An ankle for climbing.  I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

If you’ve ever tried to climb a tree, you may have been left wondering how our tree-dwelling ancestors did it. But according to researchers at Dartmouth College, modern humans may still be able to, with practice. The Twa people are hunter-gatherers who live in the rainforests of southwestern Uganda and regularly climb trees to forage for food. According to biological anthropologist Vivek Venkataraman, they can flex their ankles up to 45 degrees, much more than the average person. This, along with their relatively short stature in relation to arm length, allows them to scale trees with ease.

VIVEK VENKATARAMAN (Dartmouth College):

They have extremely flexible ankles and they put their foot flat up against a tree and they sort of walk up it.

HIRSHON:

He adds that many people could probably develop the same degree of ankle flexion as the Twa if they habitually climbed trees. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

A Twa climber flexes his ankles, pulls himself close to a tree trunk, and "walks" up a tree. (George Perry)