David Olmsted's Reviews > Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex Among Apes

Chimpanzee Politics by Frans de Waal
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's review
Apr 13, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: animal-behavior
Read in April, 2012 — I own a copy

This book covers the introduction of a chimpanzee colony into a large Arnhem zoo habitat during the late 1970’s. Because the zoo provides food and a safe territory it is not natural environment but it allows for close observations of internal group dynamics. The core of the colony are the females with their offspring who above all seek stable peaceful internal group dynamics along with good food and secure territory. Chimps (but like humans and baboons) are unique among the great apes in that the males work together to achieve this territory control yet this cooperation is balanced by their competition for the females. This competition is the main story of this book and it is more political instead of violent relying on coalitions between two males or between a male and a larger group of females. Consequently extensive social conventions are used in this process. The potential for extreme violence is there but it is rarely expressed although an example is given at the end of the book.

The females favor those males who can keep the peace between them by threat of force even though that force is never expressed strongly by biting as it is with other males. This also seems to explain why up and coming mid-ranking males harass the females until the females show them respect. The way females keep the peace between males is by more sympathetic and more socially aware interaction. When a coalition of two males dominate the sexual privilege hierarchy they share access to the females although the females typically have ideas of their own and will sneak away with others when they can. Yet even the most dominant males are very tolerant of children and females and will even let females steal food out of their hands without a fuss. This book make a great comparison piece to another book by the same author on the similar sized Bonobo whose males do not cooperate for territoriality.
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