Chimpanzees are born killers, says new study

Human interaction has nothing to do with it either.

By Dileep Thekkethil

BANGALORE: It looks like Koba’s greed for power and his attack on Caesar, the leader of the chimpanzees in the Hollywood movie ‘Dawn of the Planets of the Apes’ is not fictional. A new study has found that violence is a basic instinct in chimpanzees as they have a tendency to acquire more power to access resources.


The new study was published in Nature and comes as a setback for people who believed that the human intrusion into natural environment of the chimpanzees was the reason behind increasing cases of chimp attacks.

The authors of the study conducted a detailed examination of known cases of chimpanzee and bonbon attacks in Africa that resulted in killing of their own species. The studies revealed that violence is a natural instinct of chimpanzees and human invasion into their natural habitat has little to no impact on their aggression; delivering deadly attacks.

The study has started off a row among critics who largely feel that it is inadequate to analyze the impact of human intervention in the chimp’s natural habitat.

Michael L. Wilson, an anthropologist at University of Minnesota and one among the authors said to The New York Times that even though the study is about the behavior of chimpanzees, it is also trying to make inferences about human evolution. Latest studies reveal that almost 95% of human and chimpanzee DNA are similar.

There is no disagreement among critics that chimpanzees kill, which Dr. Wilson and 29 other authors have stated in the study, but difference of opinion arise when they conclude saying that there is no evidence to substantiate the claim that human intrusion into the wild has got anything to do with chimp violence and subsequent killings.

To validate this claim, Dr. Wilson said the most aggressive and ferocious chimps are Ngogo group of chimps found in Uganda and this group of chimpanzees are far away for human disturbances. According to him, Ngogo chimps slaughter neighbors and establish their territory, which has nothing to do with human interaction.

Joan Silk, an evolutionary anthropologist at Arizona State University, wrote in News & Views piece of Nature “These results should finally put an end to the idea that lethal aggression in chimpanzees is a non-adaptive by-product of anthropogenic influences — but they will probably not be enough to convince everyone.”

However, Robert Sussman, an anthropologist at Washington University, ridiculed the study and was quoted by the Times as saying, “The statistics don’t tell me anything. They haven’t established lack of human interference.”

The research was conducted on 18 chimp communities that lived in different ecosystems. Each group experienced different levels of interaction with humans. The researchers found 152 cases where chimpanzees killed each other. The male dominance among chimps was evident among each community as majority of the killers and the killed were male chimps who either tried to invade others’ territory or tried protecting theirs.


  1. And who made Environmentalists so stupid to have NOT known this all along?

  2. Finally, a news outlet carrying this story, that is not afraid to allow comments.
    My take: Humans are related to chimps and share the very same proclivity to violent behavior. You only have to read the daily news to confirm this. So what are we to make of this? What do the chimps make of their lethal behavior? Not much; they move on. Obviously we cannot emulate them at that. Perhaps we ought to place violent offenders together, in some remote location and let them be what they desire.

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