Chimpanzees even take dangerous risks to reach their breakfast sites as planned. They leave their nest earlier and often in the dark when leopards are more likely to attack for the fruits in order to arrive before others, especially when the breakfast sites are far away, the researchers found.

"It was thrilling to see chimpanzee mums and their young carefully treading the forest floor during twilight, behaving skittish and on guard while moving towards their early morning breakfast figs," said Karline Janmaat from Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

"One fifth of these mornings they left before sunrise and the rest of the forest seemed sound asleep," Janmaat added.

For the study, the researchers recorded when and where five adult female chimpanzees spent the night and acquired food for a total of 275 full days during three fruit-scarce periods in the west African National Park in Côte d'Ivoire.

The results reveal a cognitive mechanism by which large-brained primates can buffer the effects of seasonal declines in food availability and increased inter-specific competition to facilitate first access to nutritious food.

The study appeared in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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