New Study Finds Chimpanzees and Gorillas Can Form Long-Lasting Friendships: NPR


Chimpanzees and gorillas sometimes eat from the same trees at the same time. Here a group of chimpanzees are seen in February at the Lwiro Primate Rehabilitation Center in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Guerchom Ndebo/AFP via Getty Images


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Chimpanzees and gorillas sometimes eat from the same trees at the same time. Here a group of chimpanzees are seen in February at the Lwiro Primate Rehabilitation Center in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Guerchom Ndebo/AFP via Getty Images

Maybe the real law of the jungle is that it’s good to have friends, especially those who know where to find free food.

Example: It turns out that chimpanzees and gorillas can be friends, obviously with benefits for all. This discovery comes from a new article in the journal iScience which analyzes the social interactions between primate species over two decades in Nouabalé-Ndoki Park in the Republic of Congo.

During this 20-year period, researchers have seen gorillas follow the sound of chimpanzees to a canopy full of ripe figs and then feed on the same tree. They saw young individuals of both species playing and wrestling with each other – interactions that can aid their development. And when flocks of the two species met, researchers saw gorillas and chimpanzees scanning each other and then approaching those they knew.

They even saw chimpanzees hitting their chests – a behavior associated with gorillas.

The researchers had hypothesized that the associations between the species could possibly be to avoid predators such as leopards or snakes. But the behavior of the monkeys did not show this to be a major factor in their interactions.

“Predation is definitely a threat in this area, because we have cases in which chimpanzees have been killed by leopards,” said University of Washington primatologist Crickette Sanz, who led the research. said in a press release. “However, the number of chimpanzees in daily subgroups remains relatively low, and gorillas within groups venture away from the silverback which is considered a protector against predation.”

Gorillas are seen here at Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2013.

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Gorillas are seen here at Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2013.

Brent Stirton/Getty Images

Instead, better foraging seemed to be a key benefit for both species – sometimes eating on the same tree, sometimes eating in close proximity with different foods.

Not all interactions were warm and friendly. “Interspecific aggression was bidirectional and most often consisted of threats,” the study notes – but it never reached the lethal level of aggression that took place between chimpanzees and gorillas in Gabon.

There is, however, a certain risk associated with these social interactions: namely, the transmission of diseases. Twenty years ago, an Ebola epidemic killed thousands of gorillas in Central Africa.

Research highlights what can be learned over long-term studies and Conservation efforts that protect the habitats where these gorillas and chimpanzees interact.

“We can no longer assume that an individual ape’s social landscape is occupied entirely by members of its own species,” co-author Jake Funkhouser, a PhD student in biological anthropology at the University of Washington, said in the release. Press. “The strength and persistence of social relationships we observed among monkeys indicate a depth of social awareness and a myriad of pathways for social transmission that had not been previously imagined.”

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