CHIMPANZEES’ sense of smell is more sophisticated than we thought - with a new study showing our closest relatives use their noses to smell danger.

Research carried out by Durham University and two institutions in Germany found chimpanzees can smell who is a stranger and who is part of their family.

It was previously thought they relied more heavily on their eyes than on their noses.

STUDY: Chimpanzees smell different boxes filled with urine in their enclosure Video: STEFANIE HENKEL

Co-author Professor Jo Setchell, from Durham University’s Department of Anthropology, said: “The ability to recognise kin is crucial because it allows animals to choose appropriate partners for coalitions, avoid mating with close relatives, and avoid killing their own offspring.

“There is evidence humans can also recognise the smell of their relatives, even as newborns.

“We apparently retained good olfactory capabilities or sense of smell, although we – like our closest relatives, the chimpanzees – don’t usually scent-mark, and lack the specialised sense of smell found in many other mammals.

“Our results help us to understand the evolution of primate chemical communication and suggest that we should pay more attention to olfaction in apes.”

The expert in primate behaviour worked with Dr Stefanie Henkel, of the University of Leipzig and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutional Anthropology in Germany, on the study published in the academic journal, Royal Society Proceedings B.

The researchers placed three plexiglass boxes with air holes in the chimpanzees’ enclosure in Leipzig Zoo in Germany.

Two boxes contained urine, either from strangers or from family members, and a third box was unscented.

They filmed the chimpanzees and found they spent longer sniffing the urine from animals they did not know compared with the boxes from chimpanzees in their group.

However, within their group, the chimpanzees spent longer sniffing at urine from relatives in their group than from non-relatives.

Results suggest chimpanzees can use their sense of smell to identify strangers, who represent potential danger.