Were you aware that chimpanzee’s wage war? We’re not talking about small conflicts of dominance that are so frequently seen within the animal kingdom. What we are talking about are full scale, protracted conflicts, carried out in an organized fashion with military precision. So frightful and devastating are these wars that if it weren’t for a lack of sophisticated weapons, they would challenge our own for the havoc that they wreak.
It’s not exactly a secret that chimpanzees are among our closest living relatives in the animal kingdom. We share about 98 to 99 percent of our DNA with them. It also shouldn’t come as a surprise that animals, both in the wild and domesticated, fight. It’s a simple fact of life. But for so long on this third rock from the sun, humans have been the ultimate fighters among our own species. We have developed ways to kill each other with precision and efficiency that no other creature known to man can match, and mostly for real estate. But the fact that chimpanzee’s wage war, not completely unlike humans, sheds a new light on the animal kingdom.
Humans often view chimps as cute, lovable monkeys without a bad bone in their bodies. We know that they have their own territory and will protect it, just as most animals do, humans included. But until relatively recently, we thought that we were the only creatures that took land by lethal force.
The four year chimpanzee war
In what can be regarded as a full scale war, and possibly the only chimpanzee war ever witnessed, the results were devastating, resembling primitive ethnic cleansing. Over a four year period, from 1974 until 1978, two rival communities of chimpanzee waged a brutal war of attrition, with one of the belligerents suffering total defeat. These two clans, the Kasakela and the Kahama engaged in a conflict over nothing more than land, using military tactics and psychological warfare and ethnic cleansing to eventually bring the war to an end.
As we have mentioned, these chimps used military tactics throughout the conflict, something that surprised most observers. This itself shows the development and understanding of forethought in animals. To many observers, this was amazing to witness. But the brutality of this war, as with the ones that we have, was shocking.
After a grueling four years of conflict over land, the final bloody end came in 1978. The Kasakela, who were far superior in numbers defeated their opponents and won their territory. The outcome for the Kahama was final. All 6 males and 1 female were killed, 2 females went missing, and in a final act of barbarity, the final 3 females were beaten, raped and kidnapped.
Although the Kasakela were successful in this chimpanzee war, the land conquest was not to last. A neighboring community of chimps, the Kalande were far superior in both strength and numbers. After several, often brutally violent skirmishes along the territory borders, the victorious Kasakela withdrew from much of their newly acquired territory.