Chasing prey in the rainforest
The diet of chimpanzees is mainly vegetarian: fruit and leaves top the menu, followed by flowers, seeds, nuts and honey. Occasionally, however, chimpanzees also eat meat.
In groups of various sizes, female and male chimpanzees hunt for bush pigs, bushbuck and blue duiker, a small forest-dwelling antelope. In the Taï National Park in Côte d’Ivoire, however, their favourite prey is the colobus monkey: 95 percent of the chimpanzees’ hunting activities target this mainly tree-dwelling monkey species. This extreme specialisation on a very specific prey is probably related to the particular environmental conditions in this forest region. For example, the bush pigs in the Taï Park live in larger groups and can defend themselves better as a result.
The Taï chimpanzees go hunting every three days on average. Most of the hunting is done by the males; however, the females are also successful hunters. Sometimes, the hunt can last up to 40 minutes, after which the animals have either caught their prey or given up.
The chimpanzees have developed ingenious strategies for catching the agile colobus monkeys. Each animal has a specific task to carry out during the hunt: some of them drive the prey into the arms of their partners who lie in wait, ready to ambush. Hence, the more animals participate in a hunt, the more successful it is.
To this effect, the chimpanzees must adapt their hunting strategy to their particular habitat. Observations of hunting in the Taï National Park by Christophe Boesch from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig show that forest and savannah chimpanzees differ in their hunting behaviour. Forest chimpanzees are the expert hunters: each animal assumes a specific task in the hunt. They hunt in bigger groups and target adult animals as their prey. Moreover, they share the prey more often than their species counterparts in the grasslands.
Chimpanzees usually share the spoils of their hunt only with their relatives. Male chimpanzees occasionally give some meat to unrelated females. Their generosity is not entirely selfless, however: according to Cristina Gomes, another scientist from the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, the hunting males exchange meat for sex. They can increase their reproductive prospects in this way, and the female recipients can obtain more to eat without investing energy or putting themselves at risk in the hunt.
Image: Cristina M. Gomes/MPI for Evolutionary Anthropology