FunNature & AnimalThis was the war between chimpanzees and gorillas

This was the war between chimpanzees and gorillas

There are not a few conflicts that could be classified as war between non-human animals, either between social groups of the same species, or between two different species. The attacks of one species against another is relatively common when there is a direct relationship between predator and prey. However, when talking about warlike conflicts, reference is made to competitive attacks, either for territory or for some specific resource , and not so much to hunting or predation. Of all of them, perhaps the most striking is what happened in the Loango National Park, in Gabon , between chimpanzees and gorillas.

The chimpanzee is a widespread species in central and eastern Africa, although with a relatively low population density, and in most places it coexists with gorillas without problems.

In Loango the situation was not very different. Until 2018, the interaction between gorillas and chimpanzees had been peaceful , and even collaborative. But, in 2019 the chimpanzees abandoned their usual pacifism and carried out two attacks on gorilla populations . In both cases, the ones who initiated the conflict were the chimpanzees and, in a curious parallelism with the behavior of the human species, the majority were males.

the first attack

On February 6, 2019 , a patrol of 27 chimpanzees were on an excursion outside their territory, likely looking to expand it. In the afternoon, and after not finding anything, they returned back to their home, separating into two groups. Around five in the afternoon, the largest group, consisting of 18 individuals, encountered a small group of gorillas consisting of a silverback male, three females, and one calf.

The conflict began with a series of displays of force by the chimpanzees , shouting and threatening the group of gorillas. The male gorilla responded in kind, finally charging a young female. Nine of the chimpanzees in the group—eight males and one female—then attacked the huge silver-backed gorilla, jumping on it and punching it repeatedly.

The gorillas fled in retreat, but the cub was captured by one of the chimpanzees . Despite cries for help, the gorillas were unable to rescue him. For 15 minutes the chimpanzees played with the baby and beat him to death . Even afterwards, one of the adolescent females played with the body of the fatal victim for at least three-quarters of an hour. At that time, the gorillas, from afar, shouted a couple of times, and the usual chest beats of those animals were heard. But they never got close again.

Apart from the fatal victim, two male chimpanzees ended up with minor injuries and a female, the first to be hit by the silver back, seriously injured.

the second attack

It happened on December 11, 2019 . As before, a group of 27 chimpanzees were patrolling the edges of their territory when they encountered a group of gorillas in the trees . The group was made up of a silver-backed male, a juvenile, and two adult females with young.

The conflict began in the same way, with the threatening cries of the chimpanzees, and the male gorilla responding , making a show of force, with blows to the chest. Most of the chimpanzees climbed the trees, while four of them stayed on the ground.

It is not known for sure what happened in the tree canopy, but the huge silverback came down within a few minutes and fled , followed by one of the females and her cub clinging to her belly. The chimpanzees did not chase the male, but harassed the female and her baby. They managed to snatch the calf from her, although the mother successfully rescued her and managed to flee the scene.

The second female , still in the trees, was not so lucky. She was mobbed in the canopy by eight adult males and one adolescent female . Although she screamed and waved her arms trying to scare the smaller apes and tried to flee through the trees, at some point her calf was taken from her.

Unlike the first encounter, in this case the chimpanzees, in addition to playing with the cub’s body, also ate it .

The civil War

These observations constitute the first known conflicts between chimpanzee and gorilla coalitions, which a group of researchers led by Lara M. Southern, from the University of Osnabrück, Germany, compiled in a study published in the prestigious journal Nature . It is thought that the groups of gorillas attacked are different —up to seven family groups live in the region—, although they were carried out by members of the same chimpanzee community, the Rekambo .

However, this is not the first warlike conflict observed in chimpanzees. Jane Goodall in the mid-1970s already witnessed a no less striking event: a civil war .

It happened in the Gombe National Park, in Tanzania, in the Kasakela community and, as in many human civil wars, the trigger was a struggle for power. Three males vied for dominance of the herd , and two of them, brothers, ended up becoming independent , creating their own clan, with four more males and three females; the Kahamas . The civil war lasted from 1974 to 1978, and after brutal beatings, kidnappings and even slave behavior, it ended with the life of the entire Kahama community – the separatists – and a member of the Kasakela .

For Jane Goodall, discovering that chimpanzees weren’t always the friendly animals she thought and that they are much more like the human species was a disturbing shock , so difficult to reconcile that she even expressed it in her memoirs.


Goodall, J. 2010. Through a Window: My Thirty Years with the Chimpanzees ofGombe. HMH.
Southern, L. M. et al. 2021. Lethal coalitionary attacks of chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes troglodytes) on gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) in the wild. Scientific Reports, 11(1), 14673. DOI: 10.1038/s41598-021-93829-x

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