New Study Shows Chimpanzees Go to War Over Territory
A decade-long study of chimpanzees in Uganda appears to show that chimps wage war and annex territory, assembling into patrols and killing chimpanzees from other groups. On the other hand, baby chimps are really cute.
Dr. John Mitani and his research team have spent ten years in Kibale National Park, Uganda, observing the behavior of a large group of chimpanzees in a region of the park called Ngogo. Mostly, the male chimps "behave[d] a lot like frat boys," which I assume means they iced each other. But sometimes (about every two weeks) they behaved a lot like... Hitler:
A band of males, up to 20 or so, will assemble in single file and move to the edge of their territory. They fall into unusual silence as they penetrate deep into the area controlled by the neighboring group. They tensely scan the treetops and startle at every noise....
When the enemy is encountered... Enemy males will be held down, then bitten and battered to death. Females are usually let go, but their babies will be eaten....
The objective of the 10-year campaign was clearly to capture territory, the researchers concluded. The Ngogo males could control more fruit trees, their females would have more to eat and so would reproduce faster, and the group would grow larger, stronger and more likely to survive.
The scientists believe that the warlike behavior is adaptive—that is, it's neurologically hardwired behavior programmed into the chimps brains' by natural selection—and that it may have been a behavioral quirk of a common ancestor we share with chimpanzees. (Other scientists—wussy scientists—believe that we share an ancestor, and behavioral predilections, with the peaceful hippie ape, the bonobo.)
But can we really trust "scientists" to tell us that chimps are warlike and aggressive? What about the fact that chimp babies are really, really cute? Let's debate: Are chimps Warmongering Murder Beasts, or Cute Li'l Hairy People?
Point: Enemy males will be held down, then bitten and battered to death. Females are usually let go, but their babies will be eaten.
Point: In one, a chimp community first observed by Jane Goodall in Tanzania's Gombe National Park split into two and one group then wiped out the other.
Point: Toshisada Nishida of Kyoto University noticed that a chimp group had disappeared, presumably killed by its neighbors, but he was not able to witness the killings or find the bodies.