Certain behavioral and social system similarities between humans and apes are uncanny. Not to mention the 95 percent similarity of DNA between chimps and people. But researchers demonstrated that they could also share math skills.

The Seneca Park Zoo houses a group of olive baboons that were used in a University of Rochester study to determine just how good they are with numbers. What they found was the monkeys' remarkable ability to decipher quantities the same way as a human child.

"The human capacity for complex symbolic math is clearly unique to our species," Jessica Cantlon, co-author of the study, said in a press release. "But where did this numeric prowess come from? In this study we've shown that non-human primates also possess basic quantitative abilities."

"This tells us that non-human primates have in common with humans a fundamental ability to make approximate quantity judgments," said Cantlon. "Humans build on this talent by learning number words and developing a linguistic system of numbers, but in the absence of language and counting, complex math abilities do still exist."

Researchers observed eight olive baboons, between the ages 4 and 14, in 54 experiments that had the baboons guess the cup with the most peanuts.

Each of the two cups placed before a baboon had one to eight peanuts, both varying.

In the easy pairings, such as cups with two and seven peanuts, nearly 75 percent of the time the baboons guessed the higher quantity; while in the harder trials where one cup contained six and the other had seven the accuracy rate dropped to 55 percent.

This signaled to researchers that the baboons depended on a "more than" or "less than" cognitive approach, meaning they were able to distinguish pairs with the greatest difference. This same ability is recognized in children who haven't started counting but identify differences in groups. It is also practiced in adults when they have to perform fast calculations.

In a second experiment with 130 tests, the baboons quickly learned. In a three-cup guessing game where two cups included peanuts and the third cup was empty, they never chose the empty one. But despite their fast learning curb, they did not improve their rate for choosing the higher quantity.

"What's surprising is that without any prior training, these animals have the ability to solve numerical problems," said Cantlon.

"It stimulates our animals in a new way that we hadn't thought of before," said Jenna Bovee, co-author and primary keeper for baboons at the Seneca Park Zoo.

"A lot of people don't realize how smart these animals are. Baboons can show you that five is more than two. That's as accurate as a typical 3 year old, so you have to give them that credit."

"In the same way that we underestimate the cognitive abilities of non-human animals, we sometimes underestimate the cognitive abilities of preverbal children," said Cantlon. "There are quantitative abilities that exist in children prior to formal schooling or even being able to use language."

The study appeared May 2 online in the open-access journal Frontiers in Psychology.