A fatal chimpanzee attack has scientists confused. According to a stunning report, a clan of chimps attacked and brutally murdered its former leader before beating and eating its mangled body. The ousting is not uncommon for great apes, but chimpanzee cannibalism is rare, to be sure.
The New Scientist‘s Chelsea Whyte said the scene at the chimpanzee attack was “gruesome.” Lying dead in a pool of blood was the once alpha male of the Senegalese savanna. The chimp’s battered corpse had been exposed in the sun for hours.
Whyte said the deceased animal was a West African chimpanzee called Foudouko. From all signs, it suffered a brutal death at the hands of clan members. They killed him by kicking him repeatedly and beating him with rocks and sticks. And in a final act of defiance, the chimps cannibalized the fallen ape.
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The death marks the ninth known case in which chimpanzees from the same family banned together to kill another member in such a horrific manner. Often, deaths of this type occur between rival gangs.
Michael Wilson works at the University of Minnesota. He said the killing of the chimp is indeed rare, but the data collected sheds more light on group dynamics of primate clans. It adds more to the body of science about coups against dominant males and how they form.
“Why do these coalitions sometimes succeed, but not very often? It’s at the heart of this tension between conflict and cooperation, which is central to the lives of chimpanzees and even to our own,” Wilson says.
Chimp clans in the wild mostly consist of females. However, in the recent attack, there were more males present.
“When you reverse that and have almost two males per every female — that really intensifies the competition for reproduction. That seems to be a key factor here.”
The Fongoli chimpanzees of Senegal became the subjects of a symposium last year. NS editor Rowan Hooper spoke about chimps’ adaptation to hunting meat during the day. Scientists learned the apes developed skills to create a spear tool for hunting bush babies.
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The primates learned to prey on the defenseless nocturnal mammals that are asleep during the daylight hours. National Geographic says chimpanzees are one of the few species in the animal kingdom that use hand-crafted tools.
Iowa State University researcher, Jill Pruetz, knows this particular group of chimpanzees quite well. For over 16 years, she’s studied their habitat, behavior, and methods of establishing hierarchy.
In Pruetz’s opinion, the gender anomaly is likely due to a human cause. She says poaching in Senegal puts a premium on females, which are popular as pets. This leaves clans of males that constantly spar for dominant roles.
The murdered chimpanzee likely fell from power as the result of a planned violent coup. More than a decade ago, Foudouko ruled over lesser males and was viewed largely as a “tyrant,” according to Pruetz.
The turning point of his reign came when his close companion, another male, was left weakened in a skirmish. However, Foudouko maintained ties with the lower ranked chimp or beta male.
Other males viewed this as a sign of weakness and likely conspired against him. He was chased off a number of times but was allowed to return with a lower status. Eventually, a group of younger males coming into their own, challenged him, which led to his demise.
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His cause of death was likely from a gaping foot wound that caused him to bleed out. However, he suffered from numerous internal trauma, shattered ribs and lacerations about his body. Even in death, other chimpanzees attacked his lifeless body repeatedly and later feasted on his remains.
“It was striking. The female that cannibalized the body the most, she’s the mother of the top two high-ranking males. Her sons were the only ones that really didn’t attack the body aggressively.”
Mamadou returned after the carnage and tried to wake his dead pal.
[Featured Image by Sergey Uryadnikov/shutterstock]