Humans not responsible for chimp aggression

  • September 17, 2014
Humans not responsible for chimp aggression

Chimpanzee aggression is not the result of interaction with humans and is something they naturally do, according to a new study co-authored by a former Gates Cambridge Scholar.

Chimpanzee aggression is not the result of interaction with humans and is something they naturally do, according to a new study co-authored by a former Gates Cambridge Scholar.

The new study looks at decades of data from chimpanzees and their close relatives, bonobos (also called pygmy chimpanzees) and contradicts the theory which has emerged since the 1970s when Jane Goodall’s reports of chimpanzee violence caught the attention of a global audience that chimpanzees kill because their behaviour has been changed by human activities, such as researchers feeding chimpanzees, or the destruction of habitat as people clear forest for farms.

Researchers Kathelijne Koops [2006], a former Gates Cambridge Scholar from the University of Cambridge, and Chie Hashimoto from Kyoto University contributed findings from the chimpanzee study site in the Kalinzu Forest, Uganda, to an Africa-wide study of 22 sites and 30 co-authors published online in Nature TBD. Overall, the study compiled over five decades’ information from 18 chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) communities and four bonobo (Pan paniscus) communities.

“Chimpanzees and bonobos are the two living species most closely related to us of all the animals alive today; we have most in common in terms of genetics and evolutionary history,” says University of Minnesota lead author Michael L. Wilson. “Based on our results, it’s clear that lethal aggression is something that chimpanzees naturally do. We found that chimpanzees sometimes kill other chimpanzees, regardless of whether human impacts are high or low, whereas bonobos were not observed to kill, whatever the level of human impacts.”

“By studying our closest living relatives we are able to shed light on the evolutionary origins of behaviours such as technology, language, as well as violence and warfare,’’ Koops said. While the new study answers one question, many more remain. Wilson says: “It’s still an open question whether this sort of violence is something which has happened continuously in human evolutionary history, or whether it arose independently in humans and chimpanzees. Perhaps our common ancestor, which we believe lived five to seven million years ago, also had high rates of violence.”

The study began as a response to a growing number of commentators claiming that chimpanzee violence was caused by human impacts. “This is an important question to get right. If we are using chimpanzees as a model for understanding human violence, we need to know what really causes chimpanzees to be violent,” says Wilson. Koops adds: “When studying wild chimpanzees, it is quite rare to observe a killing event and as a result it is difficult to draw firm conclusions based on the research conducted at only one site. Our study combines long-term data from all the major chimpanzee and bonobo study sites and therefore allows us to address key questions regarding the evolutionary origins of lethal aggression.’’

Latest News

Knowledge gap on zoonotic disease transmission highlighted

The impact of climate change on migration patterns, particularly in areas which depend on agriculture and livestock, could affect zoonotic disease transmission yet little research has been done to date. A new study, led by Gates Cambridge Scholar and Veterinary Science PhD student Dorien Braam [2018], looks at the research that currently exists, but calls […]

Addressing climate change in words and action

A Gates Cambridge Scholar has called for the US federal government to establish a national, robust and legally binding net-zero target that emphasises comprehensiveness, equity and clarity on the role of offsets.  In an opinion piece in Arizona Republic, Stephen Lezak and his co-authors, including Kate Gallego, the mayor of Phoenix, Arizona, which has done […]

Gates Cambridge mentors: forging bonds and giving back

The Gates Cambridge Scholars Council has been running a mentoring programme since 2018 as part of an effort to bring alumni and scholars closer together, build a stronger sense of community and to give mentors a chance to give back. This year has seen a big increase in the number of mentors coming forward, with […]

Scholar joins COP26 net-zero initiative

A Gates Cambridge Scholar has been appointed as a climate change consultant on a new consortium working on a net-zero vision for the world ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference [COP26] in November. Ramit Debnath will be working on designing the India net-zero profile chapter of the vision along with in-country experts. The international […]