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Gombe Chimpanzees Eat Meat

It will be a surprise to many to learn that the chimpanzee in the wild has definite carnivorous tendencies. It has always been suspected by scientists that wild chimpanzees might eat an occasional lizard or small rodent, but no one thought these apes might kill fairly large animals.

As far as I can determine, the fact that they do so came to light for the first time during my research. This behavior may not be common to all races of chimpanzees in Africa, but it is certainly true of those of the Gombe Stream Reserve.

Monkeys seem to be a favorite item on the menu. I saw them eaten on four occasions, and twice I found bits of bone in the chimpanzee droppings. In addition, I once saw a young bushbuck eaten, and another time a young bush pig. Four times the prey was unidentifiable.

I saw chimpanzees eating meat several times before I actually saw them attack and kill. On that occasion the prey was a red colobus monkey. I was watching four of these monkeys resting in a tall, leafless tree when suddenly a young chimpanzee climbed into a neighboring tree. He sat close enough to one of the monkeys to attract its attention, yet not close enough to scare it away. Meanwhile another young chimpanzee bounded up the tree in which the monkey was sitting, ran with incredible speed along the branch, leaped at the colobus, caught it with its hands, and presumably broke its neck.

Five other chimpanzees then climbed up, including a mature male. But because an adolescent had made the kill, the carcass was torn up and shared among the whole group, with no fighting or quarreling.

At other times, however, when the prey is in the possession of a mature male, there is no such sharing. The others in the group show respect. They sit as close to the male as they can, watching the meat with longing eyes, holding out their hands palm uppermost in a begging gesture.

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