Hippie apes make war as well as love, study finds

Mon Oct 13, 2008 1:35pm EDT
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By Michael Kahn

LONDON (Reuters) - Despite their reputation as lovers not fighters of the primate world, bonobos actually hunt and eat other great apes, German researchers said Monday.

Their findings, the first direct evidence of hunting by the so-called "hippie" apes, show that such behavior is not linked to male dominance as females rule bonobo society and also go on hunts.

"We always have this view that hunting is a male business," said Gottfried Hohmann of the Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. "What our study shows is this is not necessarily the case.

"This has implications for models on early humans that people have proposed how humans have evolved," said Hohmann, whose findings are published in Current Biology.

Bonobos, chimpanzees and orangutans, collectively known as the great apes, are the closest genetic relatives to humans and scientists study their behavior to learn more about our own evolution.

The apes are generally considered more peaceful than their close cousins, the chimps, and have a reputation for free-loving ways because sex plays a major role their society, being used for greetings, conflict resolution and reconciliation.

Scientists had thought bonobos, found in the lowland forest south of the river Congo, only ate small animals such as squirrels, forest antelopes and rodents they encountered.

But over five years of observing a group of bonobos the researchers recorded about 10 instances when a group of the apes set out on hunting trips in search of chimpanzees.   Continued...

<p>Bonobo apes, primates unique to Congo and humankind's closest relative, groom one another at a sanctuary just outside the capital Kinshasa, October 31, 2006. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly</p>