Intracommunity Coalitionary Killing of an Adult Male Chimpanzee at Ngogo, Kibale National Park, Uganda

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Intercommunity coalitionary killing of adult and adolescent males has been documented in two chimpanzee communities in the wild, and it was strongly suspected in a third. It may increase survivorship for the attackers, their mates, and their offspring by reducing the combined strength of hostile neighbors and/or by increasing territory size and food availability, and it may help the attackers to attract mates. Lethal coalitionary attacks by males on other male members of their own communities would not provide these benefits and are not expected, given the importance of cooperation among male community members in contests for dominance rank and in both defense and offense against neighboring males. Nevertheless, intracommunity coalitionary killings associated with struggles for alpha rank occur in the wild and in captivity, and observers have seen serious gang attacks on maturing adolescent and young adult males at Mahale and Budongo: the victim in the Budongo case was killed (Fawcett and Muhumuza, 2000). I describe a lethal attack on a young adult male by a large coalition of males from his community at Ngogo, Kibale National Park, Uganda. The Ngogo community is the largest known for chimpanzees and has an unusually large number of males. The attack was not related to a struggle for alpha rank: the victim was low-ranking and the community had a well-established alpha at the time. However, the victim had risen substantially in the male hierarchy over the past few years and might have appeared threatening to many higher-ranking males. Simultaneously, he associated relatively little with most other adult males, had relatively few grooming partners and was not well integrated into the male grooming network, and had no influential allies. The combination of these social factors with the unusual demographic circumstances – which presumably meant that mating competition was relatively high and the cost of losing one male relatively low – might have triggered the attack.

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