Chimpanzees have been observed attacking and killing gorillas in the wild for the first time
Researchers working in the Loango National Park in the west African country of Gabon witnessed two lethal encounters in which ‘coalitions’ of chimps clashed with gorilla troops, and their findings were published this week in the journal Nature.
In both incidents, the outnumbered adult gorillas came under assault from up to 20 adult and adolescent chimps, and as they attempted to flee they became separated from their infants – who were subsequently killed.
But they suggest depleted food resources in the Loango National Park, exacerbated by the effects of the climate crisis, could be to blame for growing tensions between the species.
“It could be that sharing of food resources by chimpanzees, gorillas and forest elephants in the Loango National Park results in increased competition and sometimes even in lethal interactions between the two great ape species,” Tobias Deschner, a primatologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, and one of the report authors, said.
Other national parks in Gabon have experienced a ‘fruit famine’ in recent years that has upended delicate ecosystems. The chances of an elephant encountering ripe fruit have decreased by 81% since the 1980s, according to a study published earlier this year.
Researchers from Osnabruck University and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have been studying the behaviour of around 45 chimpanzees since 2014.
"At first, we only noticed screams of chimpanzees and thought we were observing a typical encounter between individuals of neighbouring chimpanzee communities,” she wrote.