Chimpanzee Politics

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Chimpanzee Politics by Frans de Waal chronicles a colony of 23 chimpanzees who live in an outdoor, open-air space at the Arnhem Zoo in the Netherlands. Of these 23 chimpanzees there are four males: Yeroen, Luit, Nikkie and Dandy. The colony also consists of three female subgroups, the largest made up of Mama, Gorilla, Franje, Amber and three children, Moniek, Roosje and Fons. The second largest subgroup includes Krom, Spin, Jimmie and her two sons Jakie and Jonas. And the third female subgroup consists of Tepel, and her two children Tarzan and Wouter. Puist is also considered part of Tepel’s subgroup. Even though she usually associates more with the males than with the females and children, there is an exception when it comes to Tarzan and Wouter, to whom Puist plays an aunt-like role. There are three remaining females, Oor, Zwart and Henny, but they play a rather small role in this particular book.

Throughout Chimpanzee Politics, de Waal attempts to explain the social organization of chimpanzees. A benefit of being able to observe these primates in such a facility is that fieldworkers are able to see the animals on a regular basis, witnessing the countless social interactions that take place. De Waal notes that much of the research on chimpanzees has been done through observations in their wild habitat, and although “these observations are extremely is impossible to follow social processes in every detail in the jungle...[Researchers] will not fail to note the results of social changes, but they will often be ignorant of the causes” (p. 4). Thus, with a space in which researchers can watch the animals daily, the more we are able to understand the social dynamics of the chimpanzees.

Frans de Waal conducted his research by means of observations. He monitored the chimpanzees’ behavior, their relationships, their habits. He divided his studies into categories to emphasize main themes and key components within this culture: personalities, power takeovers, restless stability, sexual privileges and social mechanisms.

The social relationships between chimpanzees are constantly changing, and are mostly categorized within and across genders (i.e., male/male, male/female, female/female). As to be expected, interactions between males are far different than those between females. Relationships between males seem to center around the ideas of sex and power. De Waal frequently discusses the role of intimidation and submission with males. Males commonly use intimidation as a means to dominate, such as with bluff displays. During a bluff display a chimpanzee’s hair will stand on end while they stomp and grunt. These displays serve to create a sort of superiority over another male, and sometimes result in conflict, yet it is rare that chimpanzees actually fight. The author describes the males’ quarrels as “controlled fighting.”

“They only bite extremities, usually a finger or a foot, and less frequently a shoulder or the head...Since this is virtually the only way the males fight each other, they cannot be out to prove their respective physical strengths. The crucial factor is their capacity to fight effectively within the rules. A male must be able to get his hands and feet quickly out of the way, and he must equally quickly be able to seize hold of his opponent’s hand or foot” (p. 104)

In times of tension grooming is a common practice, and differences are often pacified by kissing or even licking each other’s wounds. Males also practice submission to dominance with “greetings” (and females also practice this, as well), which de Waal describes as “no more than a sequence of short, panting grunts known as pant-grunting,” which is commonly accompanied by a series of bows (p. 78). These greetings may be taken even further by the dominant male by performing a bluff-over, in which “the dominant ape steps or leaps over the ‘greeter’ [while] the submissive ape ducks and puts his arms up to protect his head” (p....
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