In the world of chimpanzees, you typically have an alpha male, the leader of the pack, and then you have the rest of the group that typically goes along with the alpha male. It’s very similar to the way humans have had leaders throughout the sands of time, only when we compare to human leaders, we mean tyrannical leaders.
An interesting story about the vicious murder and mutilation of a group’s former leader is described in vivid detail in the International Journal of Primatology by Iowa State University professor Jill Pruetz, who has been studying the animals in the region since 2001 and tracking their movements and actions all this time.
Image Credit: Oregon Zoo
At one point, a chimpanzee named Foudouko ruled over a troop in West Africa; he was an aggressive alpha male and a tyrant. His best chimp friend, Mamadou, was the beta male – otherwise considered the second in command.
At one point, Mamadou became very weak after injuries and was ultimately forced to separate from the troop for a long period of time. During this time, the troop thought of him as a weak link and a disgrace. After returning some time later, he was recognized as a lower rank in the chimpanzee way of life, otherwise known as the “social hierarchy.”
Because the weak Mamadou and Foudouko were good friends, the troop of chimpanzees eventually painted even the current alpha male, Foudouko, as weak. This led them to oust him as their tyrannical leader, forcing him into exile, where he had to live on the outskirts on his own.
During the time that Foudouko he was gone, his buddy Mamadou eventually re-gained the title of beta male, and his brother, David, would become the new alpha male.
Eventually, Fouduoko built the courage to try and re-join the chimpanzee community, but he wanted more. A hormonally-struck chimpanzee, he wanted to find a mate and reproduce, just like every other male in the group, and he also wanted his alpha male status back.
His good friend Mamadou was welcoming, and let Foudouko back into the troop, but others weren’t so keen. Some members of the troop repeatedly intimated Foudouko, as they continued to see him as weak for his previous actions. From time to time, they would ridicule and chase him away, proving to others in the troop that he was no longer the dominant one.
“We just happened to have at the time five young males all coming up in the hierarchy and those guys together didn’t want to let Foudouko back in,” says Pruetz. “He was trying to come back in at a high rank, which was ultimately a foolish thing to do on his part.”
There was also another issue – Foudouko’s troop had more males in it than it did females; almost a 2-to-1 ratio. As a result, there was a fair amount of competition for the females that he was seeking to to mate with.
As you can probably deduce from the situation, nothing good could possibly ever come from this. Foudouko, a previously-exiled chimpanzee with tons of competition from other able-bodied male chimpanzees who didn’t fear picking fights with him anymore, was no longer in charge, was no longer the alpha male, and never would be again.
One morning, Foudouko’s actions would come back to haunt him. Pruetz and her team reportedly heard loud noises coming from the direction where the troop of chimpanzees were often found. After heading there to investigate, they had discovered Foudouko’s body laying lifeless on the ground; his body was mutilated to extremes from being battered by fellow chimpanzees who didn’t want anything to do with him anymore.
Image Credit: Jill Pruetz
His body showed evidence of cannibalization, mutilation, and even post-mortem trauma. The damage was all over the place on his body, including his neck, genitals, and even his limbs. Fresh blood was bleeding profusely from his wounds.
Image Credit: Jill Pruetz
The post-mortem trauma would suggest that were high amounts of tension among his fellow chimpanzees, but it also suggests that chimpanzees may not be aware of “death,” figuring that Foudouko was probably still alive at the time that they continued to inflict pain on his body.
Pruetz and her team noted how Mamadou and David each pretty much stayed out of the whole thing as it went down, while other members of the troop did most of the battering and cannibalizing.
“It was striking. The female that cannibalized the body the most, she’s the mother of the top two high-ranking males. Her sons were the only ones that really didn’t attack the body aggressively,” Pruetz noted about the attack.
With Foudouko officially gone, the team eventually turned their attention to his once-weak friend Mamadou. They didn’t go after him like they did Foudouko, but they did eventually oust him as well, forcing him into exile..
Mamadou continues to remain in exile today, possibly afraid to return with the fear that he would face the same fate. Pruetz and her team think that he’s probably still out there, somewhere, and they’re still trying to track him down.
The observations by Pruetz and her team offered a unique glance into the mentality of some chimpanzee troops. It also made them more aware of a situation that isn’t very common among chimpanzee groups: intragroup attacks and murders. This sort of thing is far more common between members of unrelated chimpanzee groups that come across one another in the wild, but this is only one of just nine known cases that involved members from the same group.
The team suggests that it could have been human intervention that led to the troop having a higher male population than female in the first place, which didn’t help the situation any. It increased competitive pressures between the ex-alpha male and his brethren, which was the main reason for the attack in the first place.