In terms of human evolution, chimpanzees are our closest relatives. Several researchers, including well-known primatologist, Jane Goodall, spent decades of their lives studying chimps. However, as it turned out, these playful forest-dwellers have a dark side to them. A large group of them from Gombe Stream National Park exhibited what can only be shockingly described as an innate need for violence. They split into two hostile groups and participated in what is known as the “Gombe Chimpanzee War”. It lasted for four years and caused complete elimination of one of the groups.
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The Gombe Chimpanzee War was a violent conflict between two communities of chimpanzees that lasted for four years. Jane Goodall, a primatologist, first noticed it in 1974 during her study of chimpanzees in Gombe Stream National Park.
Jane Goodall started her research on chimps in the 1960s in Tanzania’s Gombe Stream National Park. There she found many unexpected things about our closest relatives, the Pan troglodytes, also known as the common chimpanzee. One of her most astounding discoveries was that they could actually make tools. She also discovered that primates, which we associate with vegetarianism and peaceful behavior, hunt and eat meat.
In one incident, Goodall observed cannibalistic infanticide by a high-ranking female in the chimp community she was studying. Another chimp community from Kibale National Park, Uganda were carnivores too. They actually managed to almost wipe out the entire local population of red colobus monkeys by hunting them as prey. According to a study conducted in 2011, the red colobus population fell by eighty-nine percent between 1975 and 2007.
The two groups involved in the bloodshed associated with the Gombe Chimpanzee War were the Kahama group which consisted of nine adults, their young, and an adolescent, and the Kasekela group with twenty adults and their young.
The chimpanzees involved were, at first, a single, unified community. But by 1974, they started dividing themselves into northern and southern sub-groups occupying respective territories. The Kahama group was the southern group and was smaller in number than the northern, Kasekela group. The Kahama group consisted of six adult males, three of them known to Goodall as Hugh, Charlie, and Goliath, three adult females and their young, and an adolescent named Sniff. The Kasekela group consisted of twelve adult females and their young, and eight adult males.
The groups formed as a result of leadership conflict after the death of a senior male in 1970. The first attack started on January 7, 1974, when six Kasekela adult males attacked a young Kahama male.
The reason for the split between these chimpanzees is not clear. According to Joseph Feldblum from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, who, along with his colleagues, re-examined Goodall’s notes. They found she wrote that the chimps had a senior male called Leakey who died at the end of 1970. After his death, a chimp named Humphrey became the alpha male.
However, Humphrey was weak and faced competition from his brothers Hugh and Charlie. The other chimps started taking sides to either follow Humphrey, forming the larger Kasekela group, or Hugh and Charlie, forming the smaller Kahama group. Things took a darker turn in 1974 when six Kasekela males attacked and killed a young Kahama male named Godi. It marked the first time any chimpanzee was seen deliberately killing another of its kind.
The Kasekela group had systematically invaded the territory of the Kahama group and eliminated it completely. The chimps would also torture their victim and cup their hands to catch the blood from its head and nose to drink.
Over a period of four years, from 1974 to 1978, the Kasekela group had killed all the six adult males from the Kahama group. One of the females was killed, while two went missing, and three were beaten and kidnapped by the Kasekela males. The brutality of the attacks did not stop there. According to Goodall, Satan, one of the chimps, cupped his hands under Sniff’s wounded face to drink the blood. Another chimp, Rodolf, killed Godi by throwing a four-pound rock. The Kasekela also indulged in twisting limbs and tearing pieces of skin with their teeth, even though they lived and ate together with their victims only a few years ago.
By the end of the War, the Kasekela group took over the Kahama territory. However, their success was only short lived as this territory bordered the territory of another, much larger community known as Kalande. So, the Kasekela ending up giving up their new territory to them.