Today's hero is a combination of Early Hominid Ancestors and Modern Chimps.
Homo Habilis, meaning "handy man" or "skilled person" is an early ancestor of modern man who lived in the general range of 2 million years ago. This hominid was named as such because although he had many ape-like features (such as long arms and a short stature) his bones have been found accompanied by primitive tools. Earlier hominids (like most animals) didn't use tools, so this guy is a big step in human evolution, although it is still debated if Habilis was indeed the very first. He also had a more human-like face and smaller teeth.
Overall, we give a lot of credit to tool usage when we consider the approximate intelligence of an animal. A new study which has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Human Evolution compares tool usage by chimps and that of early man.
"Josephine Head and Martha Robbins observed chimpanzees at Loango National Park on the coast of Gabon, Africa. They identified at least five different types of chimp-made honey extraction tools used in sequence. The tools consist of pounders, enlargers, collectors, perforators and swabbers. Chimps, suspended in acrobatic positions on branches, might first pull out a thick stick pounder to break open beehive entrances. They then reach for another stick, the enlarger, to perforate and widen different honeybee hive compartments. Next comes the collector, used to dip or scoop out honey."
Way to go Chimps and Homo Habilis! I have seen animals (like cats!) learn strategies and use them repeatedly--which boggles my mind, but if i ever saw my cat use a knife to open its food bag I think I'd pass out. Luckily, even if they had a million years, cats would never learn to use tools -- because humans will always be there to treat them like tiny royalty. Isn't evolution grand?
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.com -- Reconstruction of Homo habilis