The following video is the best illustration I have ever seen of how chimpanzees hunt together in coordinated fashion, with different individuals having different roles. It combines both on-the-ground video and overhead infrared to illustrate just how this group of chimpanzees manages a successful hunt of colobus monkeys. Incredible footage!
(If it doesn’t play, try going directly to the You Tube clip.)
Christophe Boesch has spear-headed the research to document hunting roles among chimpanzees. He published on cooperative hunting in a 1994 Animal Behaviour article (pdf) and discussed hunting roles, meat sharing, and learning more specifically in a 2002 Human Nature article (pdf).
Craig Stanford is another researcher who has focused on hunting by chimpanzees. He has written this online essay, The Predatory Behavior and Ecology of Wild Chimpanzees, which is an excellent overview of what we know about chimpanzee predatory behavior.
John Mitani has also published on why male chimpanzees hunt and share meat; in 2002 John also provided an overview about recent developments in the study of wild chimpanzee behavior. I posted more video on chimpanzee behavior, including hunting, just this week – so check that out for more footage.
For what chimpanzee hunting means about our own evolution, we have two contrasting views – hunters vs. being hunted. Craig Stanford has a 2001 popular book The Hunting Ape: Meat Eating and the Origins of Human Behavior. That book should be tempered by the more recent Man the Hunted: Primates, Predation and Human Evolution.
2 thoughts on “Cooperative Hunting by Chimpanzees”
David Dobbs, the science writer, reflects on this post and the Too Close for Comfort video over at his blog Smooth Pebbles. He has the great comparison to military small unit tactics and reflects on why viewing such videos can be so unsettling.
A day after writing this particular post, I realized that I had spent too much time doing the academic thing, giving links to more research and such. I failed to put into context why this video and the related research are so powerful. Besides the fascinating results in themselves about animal behavior, there are powerful implications and questions for how we think about ourselves – those fundamental questions about our violent nature, how different we are from other animals, and how we organize ourselves in society. Thankfully David has done that!