Social media technology unveils mystery of chimpanzee civil war

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In the upcoming “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”, chimpanzees and other primates rise up in an epic war against humans.

In 1971, it was violence between chimpanzees that surprised primatologist Jane Goodall, who saw a civil war erupt between two factions of a group of chimpanzees in Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania.

This is how a chimpanzee attack usually unfolds: a group of males will go on patrol, listening quietly near the border of their territory. They find out something. If it’s such a large group, there is often a loud screaming match, but little violence. Think of extremely hairy frat guys who act tough at a party.

Sometimes, however, there will be a small group or a lone chimpanzee. Males will often rush in, hold the chimp to the ground, and the group will bite, hit, kick, and drag its body.

“It’s really horrible and violent,” said Joseph Feldblum, a doctoral student. studying evolutionary anthropology at Duke University, told NBC News. He likened it to “behavior you would associate with angry toddlers trying to destroy a toy.”

It doesn’t happen every day, but it’s not exactly uncommon either. What is unusual is that an entire group of chimpanzees split into two, and then one group eliminates the other over a period of violence of four years.

Jane Goodall, chimpanzee researcher and naturalist, looks through glass at some of the 25 chimpanzee colonies at Taronga Zoo in Sydney on August 31, 1997.Megan Lewis / Reuters file

Not on Facebook

Scientists have long debated the catalyst for civil war. Maybe the group that Goodall was watching was really two groups from the start, which would make the violence less strange. Or maybe the conflict was sparked by a power vacuum, like when a dictator dies in a hierarchical society.

Hoping to clarify what happened, Feldblum and his team, consisting of Sofia Manfredi, Ian C. Gilby, and Anne E. Pusey, used multiple programs to analyze data from Goodall’s many notes.

Software, called UCINET, is used to analyze social networks. No, the chimps weren’t on Facebook. But they got out and entered the feeding station with some other chimps from certain directions. Goodall has recorded this data for years. The Feldblum team was able to use the software to determine who played a central role in the network and where they came from.

So how did the great chimpanzee civil war of 1971 start?

Most likely with the death of a dominant male named Leakey. After his death, some of the chimpanzees followed a male named Humphrey to the north. Others followed two brothers, Hugh and Charlie, down south.

Most of them ran away and abandoned a chimpanzee to its fate.

These subgroups probably formed even before Leakey’s death. Female chimpanzees often have “central areas” where they congregate to feed. Some recent research shows that men do the same thing, but less often.

Either way, chimps, like humans, often bond with individuals they interact with on a regular basis, which could explain why the northern chimpanzees stuck to each other after the split, and the same thing happened with the southern chimpanzees.

The northern chimpanzees gradually wiped out the southern chimpanzees, often attacking smaller groups and watching “most of them run away and abandon a chimpanzee to their fate.”

Eventually, the seven chimpanzees of the southern group disappeared, probably killed by those from the north.

It can be a fascinating drama – like the chimpanzee version of “Game of Thrones” – but it’s something other chimpanzee researchers struggle to learn from.

“The problem with this, while it’s interesting, is that it’s basically an anecdote because it’s a one-time event,” Feldblum said. “It’s hard to make predictions from that. “


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