Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Holy Shit, the Gombe War!

Jane Goodall's feeding station
As wars go, the Gombe War was fairly small in scale. Combatants numbered in the dozens, battles were sparse, and casualties came to a grand total of 11.What's really remarkable about the Gombe War wasn't so much how it was fought as who fought it. Because who fought it were these guys:
Gombe Chimpanzees
Not specifically these two. I mean, one of them is a baby.
Chimpanzees. The full name of the conflict is the Gombe Chimpanzee War. The factions involved were once part of a larger community of chimpanzees. They were known as the Kasakela and Kahama groups, and they inhabited the Gombe National Park in Tanzania. Pretty much everything we know about this war comes from a single source, and she's always been one of my personal heroes: Jane Goodall, the famous ethologist, animal rights activist, and all-around awesome chimp lady.
Jane Goodall
Hearing her greet a crowd by howling like a chimpanzee was a formative moment for me.
She started noticing a rift in the chimpanzee community, which appeared to be driving the two sub-groups into different areas of the Park. One January day in 1974, the rift tore into open violence. A gang of six Kasakela chimpanzees surrounded a lone Kahama, brutally attacking and killing him. Over the next four years, the two groups were constantly at odds. Open conflict was relatively rare, but by June of 1978 every single Kahama chimpanzee had been slain. Only one Kasakela died.

For Jane Goodall, this was one of the most horrific - and most important - events she witnessed in her time with the chimpanzees. She describes devastating nightmares that plagued her later in life, where she would relive the experience of seeing creatures she knew to be gentle in the midst of tearing one another limb from limb, literally drinking the blood of their fallen enemies. Enemies that had once been like family to them.
For some reason this picture is suddenly chilling.
But it was important for the same reason it was important when she first witnessed chimpanzees using tools. Because chimpanzees are animals, and the suggestion that animals could engage in organized hostility - warfare - was so far-fetched at the time that many in the scientific community doubted her reports and wrote them off as anthropomorphizing nonsense. Further study with more rigorous methods have only underscored Goodall's work, though.

So we just have to face the fact that we don't get to be the only ones who go to war.


Holy shit.

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