Chimps Kill for Land–but Does That Shed Light on Human Warfare?

By Andrew Moseman | June 22, 2010 1:01 pm

chimpskillchimpsChimps kill chimps. And according to a 10-year study of Ngogo chimps in Uganda, they do it to defend and extend their territory. John Mitani documented 21 chimp-on-chimp killings during the study, 18 of which his team witnessed. And when the chimps kill another, they take over its land.

Because of the 1 percent difference of DNA between us and our ape cousins, it can be irresistible to anthropomorphize them, referring to their deadly attacks upon each other with terms like “murder” or “crime.” And given the murders over territory that litter human history books, it’s hard not to see echoes of our ourselves in chimp “warfare.”

Chimpanzee warfare is of particular interest because of the possibility that both humans and chimps inherited an instinct for aggressive territoriality from their joint ancestor who lived some five million years ago. Only two previous cases of chimp warfare have been recorded, neither as clear-cut as the Ngogo case [The New York Times].

But not so fast, says DISCOVER’s own award-winning blogger Ed Yong. He contacted chimp expert Frans de Waal, who would like to dissent:

“There are many problems with this idea, not the least of which is that firm archaeological evidence for human warfare goes back only about 10-15 thousand years. And apart from chimpanzees, we have an equally close relative, the bonobo, that is remarkably peaceful… The present study provides us with a very critical piece of information of what chimpanzees may gain from attacking neighbours. How this connects with human warfare is a different story” [Not Exactly Rocket Science].

For much more, check out Yong’s full post on the study.

Related Content:
Not Exactly Rocket Science: Chimpanzees Murder for Land
80beats: How Chimps Mourn Their Dead: Reactions to Death Caught on Video
DISCOVER: Chimps Show Altruistic Streak

Image: John Mitani

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World
  • AlexB

    definitely interesting. i think we can learn so much about ourselves by looking to animals. ill be following this story!

  • http://www.earthlab.net Brandon Keim

    Lately I’ve been feeling like so much anthro/sociobiology reportage implicitly assumes a sloppy, reductionist and narrow-minded conception of human behavior and evolution. (Reading Marilynne Robinson’s “Absence of Mind” does that. Highly recommended.) Props for getting Yong’s de Waal take on this, and calming things down a bit.

  • Zachary

    The myth of the peaceful matriarchal Bonobo is dying out. They have been shown to hunt the young of monkeys recently, something that had long been unthinkable for our supposedly more peaceful cousins.

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

80beats

80beats is DISCOVER's news aggregator, weaving together the choicest tidbits from the best articles covering the day's most compelling topics.
ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »