It was believed that when a new leader was crowned, the society would calm down and peace would reign. But two younger pretenders had different plans, with great ambitions to capture power for themselves. The resultant schism in the group resulted in years of terrible warfare in which raids were carried out, ambushes were set up, and no one was above murder.
The fight was dubbed the Four-Year War of Gombe and is the only fully documented chimp civil war. A new study has re-examined the events that led up to the conflict in order to determine what triggered it.
Jane Goodall documented the occurrences after observing the chimp population at Gombe National Park for a decade, at a time when chimps were still regarded to be peaceful, forest-dwelling animals. She witnessed the tremendous violence that may spread as the one group appears to split and the apes wage a savage battle between 1974 and 1978. What she saw deeply distressed her.
“Horrible images rushed unbidden to my thoughts frequently when I awoke in the night – Satan [one of the apes], cupping his hand beneath Sniff’s chin to sip the blood that welled from a big wound on his face… “Jomeo ripping a strip of skin from Dé’s leg; Figan charging and striking the stricken, trembling body of Goliath, one of his childhood idols, again and again,” Goodall wrote in her book of her stay at Gombe.
However, the reason of the war has always been debatable. Was it a natural occurrence that occurred independently of Goodall, who was simply observing the apes, or was it triggered by the feeding station she had put up in the bush, bringing an unnatural bunch of chimps together?
After digitizing and going through all of Goodall’s original field notes from her time at Gombe, researchers compiled an amazingly detailed picture of the chimps’ social connections and friendships at the time, then charted how these altered. Their findings were published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.
They discovered that the seeds of the conflict were already present in the years preceding the war. While all guys were joyfully mixing at the end of the 1960s, by 1971, cracks were beginning to surface. The northern and southern males began to spend less time together, and encounters grew more violent.
Within a year, the two sides had separated, with the chimps remaining and associating solely within their respective groups, two years before the fighting escalated into full-fledged warfare. The researchers believe the split occurred after an ape named Humphrey became the alpha male, which the southern males Charlie and Hugh opposed.
Over the next four years, Humphrey and his northern community killed every single male in the southern group and took over their land, as well as the only three remaining females, through a campaign of conflicts, bloodshed, and kidnapping. In reality, according to the current research, the conflict was likely triggered by the restricted number of mature females in the forest at the time.
The researchers contend that, similar to what we observe in human communities today, the infighting among the males was mostly motivated by ambition, power, and jealously, and that it would have occurred regardless of Goodall’s presence.