Foraging chimpanzees gang up on and kill stray members of nearby chimp communities to eliminate competitors for food and mates, whether or not people have intruded on the animals’ territories, an international team of primatologists says.
Chimps have not killed each other over dwindling resources as loggers have cut down the apes’ forest homes, report anthropologist Michael Wilson of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and his colleagues in the Sept. 18 Nature. Neither have chimps turned homicidal when a few have chanced upon animals given bananas by human tourists, they find.
The scientists examined information collected over the last 50 years from 18 communities of common chimps, Pan troglodytes, and four bonobo communities. Bonobos, Pan paniscus, are a generally peaceful chimp species. In 15 common chimp communities, Wilson’s group documented 152 killings that were observed, inferred from obvious wounds such as bites on dead bodies or suspected due to other wounds or an animal’s sudden disappearance. Just one suspected killing occurred among bonobos.
Killings clustered in communities with high numbers of males and relatively large populations. Males were the most frequent attackers and victims. The most violent community inhabited a largely undisturbed area, whereas another exposed to intense logging and tourism experienced no killings. The new study fits the idea that lethal clashes, along with social graces, have a long pedigree in chimps and humans (SN: 8/10/13, p. 10).