Researchers have recorded two cases of chimpanzees killing gorillas for the first time, and they believe it could be connected to climate change.
Both chimps and gorillas are territorial primates, but rarely have researchers seen a major scuffle between the two species. In fact, the two animals have been seen grazing and playing together in Loango National Park nine times between 2014 and 2018.
However, in 2019 this relationship changed. In the outer boundaries of chimpanzee territory, violence appears to have been instigated by the primates against gorillas. This led to two gorilla fatalities in separate incidents.
Researchers managed to witness the fights from 100 metres away, with primatologist Tobias Deschner explaining the ‘observations provide the first evidence that the presence of chimpanzees can have a lethal impact on gorillas.’ The incidents have now been recorded in scientific reports.
The first confrontation lasted 52 minutes and was between 27 chimps and 5 gorillas. The chimpanzees reportedly screamed before launching an attack. Despite two male silverback gorillas being present, the large animal struggled to defend itself against the chimps. The result was the death of a baby gorilla.
Similarly, the second incident saw a group of chimpanzees attack gorillas. However, the ‘infant in the second encounter was almost entirely consumed by one adult chimpanzee female.’
Lara Southern, a PhD student at Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology explained the behaviour to Gizmodo:
In both cases, once the first chimpanzee who saw the gorillas let out an alarm bark or scream, the majority of other group members reacted immediately and joined in, all barking together.
The chimpanzees then worked together to single out certain gorillas, and in both events they were able to separate the baby gorillas from their mother.
Southern went on to state that ‘By looking at the current pressures faced by these two species, both in their environment and in the way they interact socially, we may learn a little more about how we as humans, so to speak, ‘rose to the top.”
This unusual behaviour has prompted speculation about what has caused these attacks. There has been a suggestion that the killing was part of a hunt, but a largely probable cause appears to be a competition for food caused by global warming.
The scientist said ‘it also could be possible that at certain times of the year when the favourite fruits of chimpanzees and gorillas are at their ripest, there are super high levels of competition between the two apes.’ She added that if this competition becomes intense it could result in the violence that was seen.
This line of thought was supported by the fact that scientists ‘think that at Loango, gorillas are perceived as strong competitors by chimpanzees, for both space and food use, much in the way that our group [at Loango] see other enemy chimpanzees.’
To further support this reasoning, 2019 saw less fruit than usual in the area, with many blaming climate change for this.
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