At the end of the day, humans want to be treated with dignity, love, and respect. No human being wants to be led by a tyrant. Throughout history, humans’ desire for freedom has always found a way to stamp out tyranny.
The same can now be said for chimpanzees. A coalition of male chimps recently took matters into their own hands when an alpha chimp persistently tried to rule over them. A coalition of freedom-fighting chimps viciously murdered their ex-leader. The gruesome scene, which included cannibalism, was monitored by researchers at the Iowa State University.
The university studied and followed the group of chimpanzees as far back as 2001. The group of chimps from eastern Senegal had lost several female members through the years due to poaching. Over time, this skewed the gender ratio and changed the behavior of the males in the group. It caused the chimps to fight more aggressively for alpha status within the group. Typically the females outnumber the males, but in this group the balance had shifted the other way.
University of Minnesota's Michael Wilson said that the competition for reproduction had intensified within the group. When the tension between conflict and cooperation tightens, the way the males form coalitions changes drastically.
Working on the Fongoli Savanna Chimpanzee Project thirteen years ago, Jill Pruetz of Iowa State University watched as Foudouko rose to alpha male status. Pruetz says Foudouko was “somewhat of a tyrant.” Foudouko teamed up with the group’s beta male, Mamadou, and they ruled over the clan.
When beta male Mamadou was injured in 2007, the group left him behind. Mamadou lost rank in the group’s social hierarchy. Losing his side-kick and his authority, Foudouko tried to re-form an alliance with Mamadou. The rest of the clan didn’t put up with it and they quickly ostracized Foudouko from the group. For years, Foudouko had no place in chimp society. Researchers observed Foudouko in the field wandering alone.
Meanwhile the group did allow Mamadou back into the social hierarchy. Thanks to his brother rising to alpha status, Mamadou was able to regain his beta male position. Still, some of the chimps tried to chase him off.
Foudouko kept trying to come back and take his spot as alpha male. Five males that were rising up the hierarchy made sure he didn’t have his way. Pruetz said, “He (Foudouko) was trying to come back in at a high rank, which was ultimately a foolish thing to do on his part.”
Foudouko did everything to remain in power, but the group would not allow it. One morning, Pruetz and her team heard loud screams. They found Foudouko dead on the ground, gashed and bleeding. His ribs were cracked. There was a large wound on his right foot. His anus was ripped apart.
Even though he was dead, the chimps continued to attack his corpse. They broke his limbs, poked him with sticks, and even started eating his flesh. The cannibalism was highly unusual for chimps. Later, Pruetz found bite marks on his fingers where the chimps had clamped down and tried to pull him apart.
It was a gruesome scene and a chilling reminder of what happens in nature when the pursuit of power and control goes too far.
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