Blog Four: Primatology

The lectures/readings from this week came at the study of physical anthropology a little bit different than what we had been accustomed to.  Instead of learning specifically about DNA, or archaeology, or other tools that can help us understand anthropology, we began studying primates.  This week we studied what is already around us first in hope to gain some insight into the past.

I was especially interested in the information from this week that related to the seeming rise in violence in certain species of chimps related to human behavior.  The main question this information worked to answer, in my eyes, was whether violence is an innate part of our nature or is the rising observed violence among primates a result of human interference.  Scientists have observed chimpanzees waring for months and even years at a time with rival chimps over territory and females.  Scientists have observed spider monkeys exhibiting similar behavior making raids on other groups.  These documented examples are really some of the first of their kind, and both instances were relatively recent.  One important point here is to try and surmise whether these are signs of changing behavior among primates or maybe as a result of us studying primates more in depth.  It seems to me that the correct answer is somewhere in the middle– human interactions such as deforestation are causing increased violence among primates and with improved scientific resources we have been able to observe more closely the daily lives of these animals.  I would wager that human actions such as deforestation are the main reason we are seeing more cases like this in primates.  Most of the time when primates engage in this kind of behavior, it is mainly to take new territory and that which comes with it, mainly females and food.  We are seeing because our actions primates being forced into combat with each other to survive.  It’s almost as if we decided that the earth wasn’t big enough for all of us, and because of our actions other animals are forced to fight each other for the limited spots remaining.

Another hypothesis for this increased documented violence among primates is simply the sort of society that they live in.  Some scientists believe that the violence among primates (and humans.. sort of) is a result of our fusion-fission social systems.  In a fission-fusion social system, individuals will subdivide into smaller groups with constantly changing memberships.  The purpose of this is mainly to spread out and find more food.  Typically, females will leave their community when they become of age and the males will stay within their own.  As a result of this, adult males will have strong ties with each other and work to secure their own ‘borders’.  This type of society opens the door for potential violence, but not a senseless kind of violence, but a violence that simply improves the chances that your community or sub group will survive and flourish.  If males can weaken other societies, than their own community will in turn have more food, room to live, and ability to reproduce.  i think this approach made the most sense in explaining the violence, because primates will for the most part make rational choices based on their perceived chances of survival.


4 thoughts on “Blog Four: Primatology

  1. You bring up a very interesting point about why we may be observing an increase in violence in non-human primates. The readings made it seem mostly genetic, like it is in their DNA to be aggressive and violent. I had never considered that humans might be contributing to this observed increase but it makes a lot of sense. Humans are destroying their habitats at such a high rate that it increases stress levels and the primates, in response, fight each other for the increasingly limited territory. I thought this was an excellent insight and definitely changed the way I think about primate violence. I also agree, though, that the fission-fusion style of communities that primates live in does contribute to the violence. It’s part of their nature to fight over mates and territory.

  2. Hi Dillion,

    I agree with you statement on how primates will make rational choices based on survival. I also think that survival of the fittest can be applied to our understanding of why primates war with each other. As you said, the males form close bonds with each other and in turn want to protect their territories from threats coming from outside groups. If there is a limited food source, they will fight to guarantee themselves access to the food. In this case, it really is survival of the fittest because the strongest, or maybe even the biggest group will win the war and have access to the food while the others will not. So rationally, I guess it does make sense that primates will go to war with each other especially over food when the choice is to fight or to starve to death.

  3. I thought the comparison to the rise in violence in certain species of chimps to human behavior also was very interesting. I never would have thought to look at it evolving down from an animal. In my opinion I think violence to some extent is apart of our nature,however, I also believe that humans interference plays a role in it as well. I would agree with you that the answer lays somewhere in the middle. Human acts like deforestation can daintily cause more violence among primates, with less space to share they will try to fight for either more space or fight to maintain the space they already have. For example, in Detroit when I was younger they closed a lot of school public on both the west and the east side, and in most cases it cased people from both sides or different “hoods” to attend the same school, forcing people who normally wouldn’t interact to do just that. This caused many fights whether over territory or respect.

  4. I found it interesting that you focused on the warfare and apparent violent behavior of some primates for your blog post! When I was reading through all of the documents and lectures presented to us this week I found this topic to be highly intriguing. However, it did not occur to me, or should I say it did not stand out much to me, on how humans may be affecting this behavior of chimpanzees with deforestation and the like. Your post made me make a larger connection between the two compared to the one that I made while reading this week. Primates tend to fight and engage in warfare in order to obtain new food resources as well as mates. It could very well be that they are getting more violent because there is now less resources available. You managed to make some good observations that I did not think about!

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