If you’ve been having somewhat vicious thoughts about the political figures in your country as of late, you are not alone. Iowa State University researchers who have been closely following a group of Senegalese chimpanzees since 2001 recently discovered that the tyrannical ‘alpha male’ of the group had been beaten, murdered and even partially eaten by members of his former tribe.
The male chimp named Foudouko, in his position as the alpha male, was “somewhat of a tyrant” explains lead author of the study Julia Pruetz, Ph.D.
When Pruetz and her team began studying the group over a decade ago, Foudouko led the pack along with his right-hand man, a beta male named Mamadou. After a few years, Mamadou became injured and left the group. Foudouko, apparently wanting to stay loyal to his second-in-command, kept in contact with Mamadou, something that the rest of the group was not happy about.
They eventually shunned Foudouko as well, and as he tried to bring himself back into the group, he was met with fierce, violent opposition. Foudouko was often beaten and berated by the five younger males of the group who were ascending through the ranks of the society. In 2013, the conflict came full circle after Foudouko was found dead with brutal injuries from the attacks of his former group mates.
One of his feet had been torn, his back was bloodied and his anus ripped. And, it was later discovered he had many internal injuries as well. This type of behavior has almost never been seen before among West African chimpanzees, or at least it is rarely ever reported.
Chimps can be seen contemplating how to handle Foudouko's corpse
In the past, “relatively little lethal coalitionary aggression” has been seen from these types of chimps. What researchers found to be truly odd, however, was the fact that the chimps continued to assault Foudouko’s corpse with rocks and sticks, even after it was clear that he was dead. One female even “appeared to try to bite off the penis several times,” the researchers wrote.
Researchers note that this strange behavior may be due to the fact that the group of chimps had an unusually low number of female chimps in their caste. Researchers note that while it could be thought that a low number of females in the group would result in group violence among males, it’s still an odd situation because of the lethality and brutality practiced in this case.
They also note that this bizarre instance of brutality only further adds to the mystery of why chimpanzees kill in the first place. Some believe it is simply because it increases their chances of passing on their genes, others speculate that it’s because of increased stress due to the activity of humans in their habitats.
This conversation has, of course, led some to ponder the reasons why humans kill, too. But, our highly developed social skills are often reasoned to be the prime explanation for why we do not use violence to settle conflicts anymore.
Their paper has been published in the International Journal of Primatology.
What do you think about the bizarre violence demonstrated by these chimpanzees on their former bully of a leader?