Chimpanzees in the Mirror
Consider this my first Halloween Post. There have been a couple of well publicized chimpanzee attacks in the U.S. in recent years. A man was mauled in an animal shelter in California by two teen age chimps, and earlier this year a woman was attacked by her friend's pet chimpanzee. Both attacks were extremely brutal, and the more recent one was fatal.
There is a very real horror story in this photograph. We see a happy family: St. James Davis, his wife, and Moe, a chimpanzee they raised from infancy. It was not Moe that attack Davis, but two other chimps in the animal shelter where Moe lived after animal control authorities decided he was too dangerous to keep in a residential neighborhood. It is pretty clear that the older of the attackers saw Davis' visit to Moe as an alliance that was a threat to his alpha status.
To anyone who knows much about them (I know a little), Chimpanzees are fascinating and frightening creatures. They are not people, and people who don't understand this sometimes come to grief for it. But they are more like us, and we like them, than either species is similar to any other.
Like us, Chimpanzees fight wars. Their sole strategy (so far observed) is to penetrate the territory of a rival group, isolate an individual, and them stomp him to death. Oh, and biting off the targets genitals (always the target is male) is a favorite moment. As forests in chimpanzee territories have been logged, chimps groups are being forced into the territory of other groups, thus increasing the incidence of war. Right now, the chimpanzees may be killing each other faster than humans are killing them.Like us, Chimpanzees also hunt. They do so not for any real need, but more for entertainment and for political reasons. Sharing meat is one way to cement alliances with other chimps. Their favorite prey is the red colobus monkey, which they hunt in well organized teams and with rather sophisticated strategies. Advanced hunters will take advanced positions while the rest of the group funnels the fleeing monkeys toward them. The preferred target is a female with an infant. She is slower and has to keep one limb holding on to her baby. The infant is the easy meat. When they catch a monkey, they eat it alive. Here is a clip of a Chimpanzee hunt.
But here is where the real horror comes in. Chimps in Uganda have discovered that there is a slower primate to prey upon. From the London Times:
At least eight children have died in the past seven years in Uganda and Tanzania after being taken by chimpanzees, and a further eight injured. The children were found with limbs and other parts of their bodies chewed off.
In one of the most recent attacks Jackson Alikiriza, a three-month-old baby, was snatched as he was being carried by his mother, Anet, while she harvested potatoes.
Mrs Alikiriza fled when she saw a chimp approaching, but could not outrun the animal. She said: "It grabbed my leg and I fell. Then it took my baby."
By the time help was summoned and the chimp was chased away by a man armed with a spear the baby's nose and upper lip had been eaten away. He died a week later.
This is real horror. It is typical chimpanzee behavior. We are modified chimpanzees.
I love chimpanzees. They tell us a lot about ourselves. I would like to think that their species will survive, but I don't think that it is. Stories of chimpanzees preying of human infants won't help their case.
Violence is much less common in modern civilizations than it was in any earlier period of human history. A male in any contemporary society is much less likely to die by violence than would have been true at any previous point in our past, and that is true even with all the deaths in all the modern wars combined. It gets worse the farther back you go. It might be a good thing to keep this in mind, and do whatever we can to make sure it continues. Chimpanzees provide a useful reminder.