“Chimp leader assassinated by gang of underlings,” read the headline last year in New Scientist. It told the story of Pimu, who led his cohort of chimpanzees until a violent day in March last year when Pimu picked the wrong fight. Four chimpanzees appeared out of nowhere, according to New Scientist, and beat Pimu to death with their hands and feet. It was a grisly end for a species that, along with humans, are among the only animals to coordinate attacks on their own kind.
But such a murder was a natural action, according to a study published Wednesday in Nature. The paper, which analyzed data from 426 combined years of observation and 18 separate chimp sites, argues chimps are not driven to violence by their contacts with humans, which some scientists have previously contended. Chimps, rather, are natural born killers.
“Variation in killing rates was unrelated to measures of human impacts,” said the paper, which was researched by an international team of 30 scientists. “… The adaptive strategies hypothesis views killing as an evolved tactic by which killers tend to increase their fitness through increased access to territory, food, mates and other benefits…”
The rate of killing…seems more dependent on how many males were in each band of chimps as well as population density. It’s inter-community tension — not outer-community tension.
Just as chimps appear to reflect some humanity’s better traits, they also reflect the bad…anthropologist Joan Silk wrote in an accompanying article.
“The behavior of non-human primates, particularly chimpanzees, are often distorted by ideology and anthropomorphism, which produce a predisposition to believe that morally desirable features, such as empathy and altruism, have deep evolutionary roots, whereas undesirable features, such as group-level violence and sexual coercion, do not,” she wrote. “This reflects a naive form of biological determinism.”
Steps in the evolutionary ladder are not as far apart as some would presume. That is, those members of human society whose understanding of life on this planet extends beyond the 14th Century.
The rest, sad to say, still rely on wee winged creatures sitting on either shoulder whispering in their ears.