Crime is often attributed solely to humans, but it turns out our close relatives the chimps are capable of horrible deeds as well. In the past 7 years, at least eight children in Uganda and Tanzania have been snatched and eaten by chimpanzees and another eight have been injured. The children were found with body parts chewed off.
Primate experts blame deforestation and human encroachment on the chimpanzees’ habitat for the aggressive behavior, but they don?t know if they’re defending their territory or looking for something to eat. Chimps were believed to be vegetarians until researcher Jane Goodall discovered they often hunt smaller primates in packs.
Chimps have also been guilty of rape, wife-beating, murder and infanticide. However, there haven’t been any attacks on human children until recently.
Biologist Michael Gavin is investigating the attacks. In one of the most recent incidents, three-month-old Jackson Alikiriza was snatched from his mother’s arms. His mother says, “[The chimp] grabbed my leg and I fell. Then it took my baby.” By the time arrived, the baby’s nose and upper lip had been eaten away. He died a week later.
Gavin says, “In most cases they bite off the limbs first before disemboweling them, just as they would the red colobus monkey which is one of their favorite prey?They are just trying to get by. If they can’t get enough food in the forest they are going to wander out in search of what’s available.”
Primatologist Frans de Waal disagrees. He says, “I am not sure these cases have much to do with territoriality. I think they rather have to do with predation. Chimpanzees hunt and eat monkeys. It is especially the males which hunt. I don’t think chimps mistake a human baby for a monkey. They’re far too smart for such a mistake.”
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