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Thread: Chimpanzee Cannibalism

  1. #1

    Chimpanzee Cannibalism

    How many people here have seen documentaries or read articles about the cannibalistic behaviour of our nearest relative, the chimpanzee? I have just watched a National Geographic programme with Dr. Jane Goodall and saw, with a mixture of repulsion and fascination, adult chimpanzees ripping apart and devouring infant chimps. To see an animal commonly represented in TV, films and the media as being almost human, cuddly and amusing, chomping on a torn off little arm is rather shocking. In fact, I would say that I found it extremely disturbing. Goodall said that the practice is neither as uncommon and aberrant as we might like to believe, nor is it restricted to male chimps. While she pointed out that most incidents of chimp cannibalism occur when a new female enters the group, she and her colleagues have documented a number of examples of female chimps behaving in exactly the same way. The argument for why male chimps might kill and eat the offspring of newly arrived females is based on the genetic explanation. The males ensure a better chance of survival for their own genes by eliminating potential competition. However, the explanation of why female chimps practise cannibalism is less certain.

    Goodall also said that a lifetime’s observations had made her very aware of the innate aggression and propensity for violence exhibited by our nearest relative.

    Does this have an impact on how we think about human behaviour; in fact, on how we view ourselves generally?

  2. #2
    Lady of Smilies Nightshade's Avatar
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    Andf Id always thought EBR had invented that bit, well that puts tarzan in a slightly differant light.
    But you know Bull elphants will do it to. Kill baby elephants that get in their way that is. If I rember correctly what ends up happening usually if the baby is luckey the rest of the herd will corral(is that the right word? surround to protect) the babies and leave the one female the Bull is intrested in out.
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  3. #3
    While obviously not pleasant, I think this is less disturbing than the chimp behaviour. The elephants might be so aggressive that they trample on the little ones, but I assume that they don’t go on to eat them. On the programme I was referring to, a group of females were watching a mother nursing her infant. The narrator said that we might look at the scene and assume that it was some kind of reassuring scene of communal, maternal care but it might also be the case that the other females were looking at the infant as a potential meal. It was only just over 40 years ago that zoologists first witnessed chimps eating meat at all. Until then, everyone had assumed they were vegetarians. Goodall even goes so far as to identify what she calls ‘psychopathic’ behaviour in some of the adult males.
    What if the desire to hurt and kill is genetically encoded?

  4. #4
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    I didn’t know about the cannibalism but I’ve heard before that chimps are far from cute. I have a friend who works for a zoo and she’s told me that they’re the animals that make the zookeepers feel most frightened. Apparently there are several cases of chimpanzees attacking their keepers whenever they get the opportunity. But they’re not just violent - they’re clever enough to think up really cruel and vicious tactics (I’d better not give the details she told me because they’re pretty nasty). They are also known for spitting at the zookeepers – quite disgusting really.

  5. #5
    Vincit Qui Se Vincit Virgil's Avatar
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    I've heard wolves also will kill the offspring of females concieved in other packs, and I've seen tv documentary of a similar behavior in lions. This seems to be a method to of ensuring the alpha's genetic purity. I'm not aware whether they eat the offspring, cannabalisticly.

    The type of behavior Unnamable describes for chimps doesn't seem to parallel human cannabalism, at least to my knowledge. The type of human cannabalism I've heard of (other than desparate measures of survival) are those like the Aztecs, where it's a ritual to gain some sort of psychic/spiritual power over one's enemies. Of course I'm not an anthropologist, so I have not explored this in any level of detail. I have also heard though never confirmed with with a reliable source that during the middle ages desparate hunger did cause some to resort to cannabalism.

    On a lighter note, this reminded me of a quote from Melville's Moby Dick, when Ishmael is forced and finally conciliates to sleep in the same bed with Queequeg, "Better to sleep with a sober cannabal than a drunken Christian."
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  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Sami
    I didn’t know about the cannibalism but I’ve heard before that chimps are far from cute. I have a friend who works for a zoo and she’s told me that they’re the animals that make the zookeepers feel most frightened. Apparently there are several cases of chimpanzees attacking their keepers whenever they get the opportunity. But they’re not just violent - they’re clever enough to think up really cruel and vicious tactics (I’d better not give the details she told me because they’re pretty nasty). They are also known for spitting at the zookeepers – quite disgusting really.
    You’ve just described the kinds of classes (including the cannibalism) that made me quit teaching in the UK. The main difference is that the chimps sound more intelligent and generally more affable. Oh, and teachers are not as well paid as zookeepers, even though the jobs are virtually identical.

  7. #7
    in angulo cum libro Petrarch's Love's Avatar
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    Eek , flashback to ninth grade. We had a Biology teacher who had us watch a three part nature series entitled "animal cannibals." (He also brought his 2 pet snakes to class nearly every day, and I usually ended up babysitting one while we watched the film, because the other students were too squemish). By the end of that class I was convinced that every creature on this fair earth was cannibalistic (even rabbits took on a Monty Pythonesque appearance in my eyes), and I had learned how to train a small snake to wrap around my wrist and go to sleep so it wasn't slithering all over the place (really, I'm not making this up).

    The most common form of cannibalism seemed to be that of eating others' young. The chimps were definately the most disturbing part of the documentary because they do resemble humans so much. In addition to the eating babies bit (which I found deeply disturbing) there was also a segment in which the chimps (or possibly some similar sized and closely related primate, I just remember they were monkey type creatures) waged war against one another, even using sticks and rocks and such as weapons, and the victors cannibalized their foes (much like the human cannibalism Virgil describes). But then, everyone who's seen the monkey battle in 2001 A Space Oddesey knows that it's all the monolith's fault for putting ideas in their heads.

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  8. #8
    I think human cannibalism is far more hideous and heinous, which animal cannibalism isn't. Because the human isn't just acting on instinct but knows that the other humans have feelings and emotions the same as they do. They deliberately viciously and cruelly plan their attack and do it. That African tyrant Edi Amin practised it and those that managed to escape from him said he was unbelievably cruel.
    I think the reasons are the same as animals but with the difference of that intelligence which knows that it is not only unnecessary but downright evil. It is to subdue, eliminate any competition, wipe out those who they hate. No different really than the behaviour of Hitler and others. I remember being at the zoo in Calgary and even though the baboons scared me, and one huge Oranutan would come screaming against the cage(they had every right, they were horribly constricted in space and desperate) it was always the chimps that terrorized me. They had an air of expectation that was laced with horrible meaness that just creeped me out. And every now and then one would be single out in the enormous caged area they were in and the rest would descend upon it with those razor teeth and well I was usually rooted to the ground in horror and grief for the one being attacked. The keepers were always nervous when trying to deal with the chimps. Nope don't like them much except from afar. But I see their behaviour in people here a lot. There have been several cases of 'swarming' where teens or adults will just pick some poor person sitting waiting for bus or just walking and they will swarm them and beat them to death and then go for a coke. Our province has had so many incidences of this wanton senseless cruelty.

  9. #9
    So, Petrarch’s Love turns out to be Dr. Dolittle.

    Quote Originally Posted by Petrarch's Love
    But then, everyone who's seen the monkey battle in 2001 A Space Oddesey knows that it's all the monolith's fault for putting ideas in their heads.
    This is an interesting point. With the famous jump cut from bone to spaceship, is Kubrick suggesting that human development became inevitable at precisely that moment when he first used tools as a weapon to kill? All I keep thinking of though, is that image of a chimp gnawing on a small arm, tearing off the skin with lip-smacking delight.

  10. #10
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    Pardon me, I don’t wish to be too technical about the matter but there had been a medical/genetical researches about this, though there are still speculations with regards to it as the whole matter does not convey it’s accuracy…or perhaps yet. I remember Lennart Persson, a Swede, yet another documented case of human cannibalism. He confessed on killing and eating parts of his two foster sisters. Now a British researcher named Simon Mead discussed in a January issue of Newsweek that this cannibalism “left its signature on our DNA” as he stated. He asserted that the evidence lies in a gene that produces prion protein, having this in abnormal form can cause mad cow and the locally termed kuru – known to be a degenerative disease endemic among cannibals in New Guinea. This gene exists in two slightly different forms and a human inheriting both similar copies are at risk for the so-called prion disease. The inheritance and/or acquisition of this gene abnormality is yet to be thoroughly investigated and thus reveal more thinkable (or acceptable?) results, though I caught an excerpt of the topic from Genetics Home Reference website:

    What is prion disease?
    Prion diseases are a group of progressive conditions that affect the brain and nervous system of humans and animals. The disorders cause impairment of brain function, including memory changes, personality changes, and problems with movement that worsen over time. Prion diseases of humans include classic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (a human disorder related to mad cow disease), Gerstmann-Sträussler-Scheinker syndrome, fatal insomnia, and kuru. These conditions form a spectrum of diseases with overlapping signs and symptoms.

    How common is prion disease?
    These disorders are very rare. They affect about one person per million worldwide each year. Approximately 300 cases occur annually in the United States.

    What genes are related to prion disease?
    Mutations in the PRNP gene cause prion disease.
    Familial forms of prion disease are caused by inherited mutations in the PRNP gene. Only a small percentage of all cases of prion disease run in families, however. Most cases of prion disease are sporadic, which means they occur in people without any known risk factors or gene mutations. Rarely, prion diseases also can be transmitted by exposure to prion-contaminated tissues or other biological materials obtained from individuals with prion disease.
    The PRNP gene provides the instructions to make a protein called the prion protein (PrP). Normally, this protein seems to be involved in transporting copper into cells. It may also be involved in protecting brain cells and helping them communicate. Mutations in this gene cause cells to produce an abnormal form of the prion protein, known as PrPSc. This abnormal protein builds up in the brain and destroys nerve cells, resulting in the signs and symptoms of prion disease.

    How do people inherit prion disease?
    Familial forms of prion disease are inherited in an autosomal dominant pattern, which means one copy of the altered gene in each cell is sufficient to cause the disorder. In most cases, an affected person inherits the altered gene from one affected parent.

    In some people, familial forms of prion disease are caused by a new mutation in the PRNP gene. Although such people most likely do not have an affected parent, they can pass the genetic change to their children.


    -------
    Getting back to the discussions, I do agree much with rachel that “human cannibalism is far more hideous and heinous.” We humans, genetically separated by a not so small percentage from our distant cousins, chimps, hold far more elevated principles regarding social behavior and interactions, and more over morals. Finding out this harrowing trait to exist upon us (still) is just as shocking for me. It’s like our difference percentage with our distant cousins just got even more microscopic. This abnormality is almost as inconceivable. But it’s truth lies around somehow, but I say more significantly in tribesmen, where some rituals may still be considered barbaric in form. Is this perhaps becuase they are less educated regarding the profoundness and importance of respect of human existence? Or the real meaning of claiming of another’s life in an inexplicably animalistic manner? Some tribes might even perhaps perceive of the thought as a normal living as presented by Virgil of those with Aztecs executing similar fashions for spiritual purposes. But for these modern times, with social structures seemingly becoming more complex by the minute, it’s really chilling to find more about the existence of this practice.

    Quote Originally Posted by The Unnamable
    All I keep thinking of though, is that image of a chimp gnawing on a small arm, tearing off the skin with lip-smacking delight.
    Imagine a human male/female acting this out with a year old infant.

    Oh yes, some more infos with the relationships of brain diseases and cannibalism (sorry too techinical again, it's just that i'm on the look out for this practice hoping that research will finally confirm it just really IS a practice than a real trait), these articles are a little old though:
    JS Online: Linking cannibalism and brain disease
    Genes suggest human cannibalism common in the past

  11. #11
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    Lions do it too. Males will take over a pride and the first thing they do is kill all the cubs, even the female cubs, and mate with the lionesses to start their own bloodlines. Look at the Black Widow spider, she does it too. Rats and mice do it, hamsters and gerbils do it if their babies aren't healthy. Baby eagles do it too, they fight to the death in the nest and one will kill and scatter the other one. Survival of the fittest, but intriguing none the less.

    Something's got to be bad wrong for humans to do this though. I can't even begin to go there in my mind. I think that's what separates us from the animals, is what Rachel was saying about the fact that we have a conscience about stuff like that, and animals don't. Not everyone listens to their conscience though, but it's there.
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