Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex Among Apes

Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex Among Apes

by Frans de Waal

In this revised edition, de Waal expands and updates his story of the Arnhem colony of chimpanzees. De Waal reminds readers through his account of the chimps' sexual rivalries and coalitions, and intelligent rather than instinctual actions, that the roots of politics are older than humanity.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Science
  • Rating: 4.27
  • Pages: 235
  • Publish Date: April 10th 2000 by Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Isbn10: 0801863368
  • Isbn13: 9780801863363

What People Think about "Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex Among Apes"

So, this book is based on an artificial setting and group, and is not even an overview of multiple artificial settings and groups. The book came out a good number of years ago, so it's possible that other books have come out which are based on a broader review of chimp groups.

Subsequent chapters describe a chimpanzee colony in the Arnhem Zoo, the Netherlands, and its relation to social interactions, such as reciprocity and strategic intelligence. Reader's main concern is raised early in the book, with the author's parallel between his study and island biogeography. He then concludes, though, that since the chimpanzee island at the Arnhem Zoo housed a limited number of chimpanzees just like a real island, under simplified conditions,the principles he presents in his case-study apply to apes on an island and apes in the zoo. For wild apes, they can be advantageous just as much as potentially lethal (e.g. weather-relative factors, like abundance or scarcity of food), whereas the apes in the zoo do not have to face negative consequences of their surrounding. Yet, he somehow fails to mention that Boehm points out to factors - non-existent in a zoo - that can potentially breach social structure of wild apes, such as inter-group conflicts that, for instance, put pressure on adult males and make them evidently more agressive towards infants (vide: Hierarchy in the Forest).

The core of the colony are the females with their offspring who above all seek stable peaceful internal group dynamics along with good food and secure territory. This competition is the main story of this book and it is more political instead of violent relying on coalitions between two males or between a male and a larger group of females.

The book is an account of the social interactions De Waal and his team observed among a preserve of chimps at Arnhem during the 1970s. As with human beings, chimpanzee societies are not strictly hierarchical; each member of a group exerts some level of power and influence, and as each of the leading males found out, brute force is not enough to maintain leadership. Chimps, like humans, form coalitions to overcome stronger opponents, and each successive change of leadership occurs because one of the rising male chimps forms relationships of cooperation or intimidation with the other members of the group (particularly the females), gradually leaving the alpha male isolated. For instance, Luit gains power over Yeroen, the original alpha male, in part by harassing and intimidating the females of the group whenever he sees them cooperating with Yeroen.

"If we look straight and deep into a chimpanzee's eyes, an intelligent, self-assured personality looks back at us." The author, Frans de Waal, is a primatologist who for several years studied a colony of chimps in Arnhem zoo. Using body language alone a chimp is described acting like he does not know where some food is hidden when with the group, but later alone he runs straight for it. Chimps want to lead their colonies as the leader gets his pick of females to mate with, and is able to keep his children safe. However in order to become the leader in the first place there is months of not just physical intimidation, but political gesturing and favour giving to win support of the females and other apes in the group. In order to keep their position at the top of the hierarchy, chimp leaders will need to help weaker chimps in disputes, keep the peace, act for justice and share the females in the group.

de Waal also points out that leadership in a chimpanzee tribe isn't limited to brute force: he demonstrates how an older, deposed chimpanzee was able to maintain a position of immense influence by continuing playing two young contenders for the seat of power off of one another. de Waal's study did have its limitations: the chimpanzees did not interact with other tribes, nor did they compete for food, so important aspects of the equation are missing.

One of the threads of this work is the ongoing triangular relationship among three adult males--Luit, Yeroen, and Nikkie. However, with time, Yeroen and Nikkie began to explore an alliance and, in the end, the two united to "overthrow" Luit, with a ghastly ending.