Ways Chimpanzees Are Just as Brutal (and Sometimes Even Moreso) as Humans

For a long time, primatologists thought chimpanzees were the nicer, gentler version of humankind. In reality, chimpanzees are violent, brutal and dangerous - much like humans. With more than 98 percent of our DNA matching, humans see many of our own societal traits and features reflected back through this sister species. Like humans, these extremely intelligent animals exhibit brutal character traits and behavior that are similar to humans. 

There are many similarities between humans and chimpanzees, and some of the human things chimpanzees do are brutal. Scientists look to these creatures to try to decipher some of the roots of human behavior, like warfare and religion. Chimps engage in long, protracted, bloody wars, they kill and consume infants, and they send out raiding parties in order to protect and maintain their territories. This list examines in detail some of the worst things chimpanzee do, from their propensity for baby slaughter to their likelihood of attacking humans when in captivity.

  • They Sometimes Cannibalize Their Murder Victims

    In 2017, a group of chimps in Senegal organized a hit on their much-maligned alpha male, Foudouko. A tyrannical leader, Foudouko had been ostracized by his group after he maintained contact with his right-man chimp, Mamadou, despite Mamadou's drop in social standing. When it came time to take Foudouko out, both males and females from the group aggressively beat him – throwing rocks at him, beating him with sticks, and jumping on him for a long time after his pulse ceased. Then, after he was dead, some began cannibalizing his body, which is both incredibly gruesome and fairly uncommon in the realm of chimpanzee hits.

  • Male Chimpanzees Wage A Campaign Of Violence Against Females In Order To Mate

    Male chimpanzees are incredibly violent toward females – kicking them, biting them, slapping them, and pulling out their hair – in order to demonstrate their own sexual fitness and virility. Because of this, male chimps who asserted sexual aggression usually were the ones to successfully reproduce, meaning that aggressiveness was passed on to future generations. Researchers are studying whether there's any link between this phenomenon in chimps to sexual aggression in men. 

  • They Commit Infanticide And Engage In Organized Baby Murder

    To ensure their DNA is passed on to future generations, male chimps will kill babies sired by other males. To combat this, female chimps are known to mate with several chimps at once to purposely conceal the paternity of her child. 

    A 2007 study published in ScienceDaily found that female chimpanzees also partake in chilling baby murders, cannibalizing the infants after they kill them. The scientists found that “resident” females would organize murder parties, attacking and killing the young of females who were new, or “strangers,” to the group. The scientists involved in the research reported hearing the shrill screams and wails of the “strange” females in the night as their young were killed and eaten before them. Although they don’t yet have definitive evidence, scientists believe that these female-coordinated attacks might be the result of changing sex ratios within the group, which increases mating, resource, and reproduction competition.

  • Chimps Attack Humans In Captivity Only After Studying Them

    This one’s really creepy. According to an article published in Scientific American, we have a lot more to fear from chimps in captivity than we do from those in the wild. In the wild, chimpanzees are frightened of humans. They don’t know what humans are about or how strong we are, so they keep their distance. However, chimps that have been raised by or lived among humans have the cognitive ability to notice tension between themselves and a certain person, as well as the difference between their strength and human strength. (It’s a MASSIVE difference, by the way). Chimps are kept behind bars to protect humans, and even from behind bars chimps will attack, biting off many a human finger in the process.

  • They Take Part In Multi-Year Wars

    Jane Goodall, the legendary primate researcher who spent 55 years studying chimpanzee behavior in Tanzania, noticed something strange happening between two chimpanzee communities in the 1970s. After a series of incredibly violent attacks between the two groups - which had formerly been a single, unified group - Goodall realized the two chimp communities were actually at war.

    That war, “The Gombe Chimpanzee War,” lasted for more than four years and resulted in the death of every single male in one of the two groups. It finally ended when the victorious tribe officially took over the territory formerly occupied by their enemies. At first scientists doubted Goodall’s conclusion, accusing her of assigning human traits and activities to a non-human species. However, now, in light of her research as well as subsequent findings, many scientists agree that chimpanzee societies naturally engage in prolonged warfare.

  • They Perform Lavish Rituals To Rise In Power

    They Perform Lavish Rituals To Rise In Power
    Photo: Frans de Waal, Emory University / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.5

    When a chimpanzee wants to demonstrate dominance to another member of his group, he spares no expense. He begins by standing up straight, bristling his hair, and morphing his face into a fierce, compressed expression. From there, he starts to sway back and forth, tearing vegetation out of the ground, ripping branches off of trees, and picking up and hurling the rocks in his path.

    If his potential victim isn’t intimidated by this display, he will begin screaming and running full force at the chimp to whom he’s proving his superiority. And if that chimp doesn’t get out of the way, the dominant chimp will slap him hard while at a full sprint, and a massive all-out brawl can ensue between the two. Whoever rises from the melee victorious also rises in tribal rank.