Research Reveals Why Chimpanzees Attack Humans

angry chimpanzee photo

Image credit: barnoid/Flickr

Chimpanzees may be humans' closest relatives in the animal kingdom but when the two species are forced to live alongside one another, the relationship is not always rosy. Even in Bossou, Guinea, where chimpanzees are revered, conflict sometimes breaks out.

While the residents of Bossou are required by their religious beliefs to defend chimpanzees—even after they have been attacked—there are no such mandates to protect people. But by observing these interactions, researchers have gained new insight into chimpanzee attacks.Kimberley Hockings, a researcher at the New University of Lisbon in Portugal, who helped edit the research, explained:

Humans have long exploited nonhuman primates, our closest living relatives, for food, traditional medicine and even as pets. Yet in some societies nonhuman primates are revered as godlike creatures. In Bossou the villagers considered the chimpanzees a sacred totem animal.

Still, this revered status did not stop attacks from occurring. The research team investigated 11 such incidents and interviewed survivors, family members and friends. On the whole, victims and their relatives were typically angry with and fearful of chimpanzees after attacks—but were still able to draw on their beliefs to explain why protection of the species was important.

"The relationship between humans and nonhuman primates worldwide is complex," Hockings commented, and "wild animals attack hundreds of people globally every year and while most nonhuman primates are fearful of humans certain species such as chimpanzees and baboons have a higher tendency to attack."

Through analysis of these incidents, the team was able to determine why chimpanzees attack when they do.

happy chimpanzee photo

Image credit: Schristia/Flickr

Why Chimpanzees Attack

The team noticed that the majority of attacks occurred during periods when wild foods were scarce. Also important, researchers noted, was that attacks were typically accompanied by an increase in incidents of crop-raiding and coincided with periods of heavy cultivation.

These factors show that humans and chimpanzees are competing for limited resources in the transitional zones between protected habitat and human settlement. As primate habitat is degraded, human-chimpanzee competition will increase and conflict will become more common.

Restoring habitat, then, is the single most important action for reducing resource-based attacks on humans. Researchers also suggest that villagers avoid planting crops and trees that are especially attractive to chimpanzees and that they keep transported food out of sight.

"Across Asia, America and Africa we cannot ignore that humans and other primates are increasingly coming into contact, competition and conflict," Hockings said.

Until habitat can be restored, understanding the relationship between humans and apes will be an essential element of primate conservation.

Read more about chimpanzees:
When This Happens To Humans It's Called Genocide: West African Chimpanzee Population Shows Dramatic Declines
Chimpanzees Even Smarter Than We Thought - Can Mentally Measure Pouring Liquid's Volume
Chimpanzees Feel Death Like People - Are Even More Like Humans Than We Think

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