Experts observing dozens of shingles in Gabon Loango National Park had expected them to be relaxed around the gorillas.
But while both species were usually alive, researchers were surprised to see occasional nasty attacks.
“At first, we only noticed chimpanzees screaming and thought we were observing a typical meeting between individuals from neighboring chimpanzee communities,” Lara M. Southern, lead author of the study, said in a press release.
“But then, we heard chest beats, a characteristic display for gorillas, and realized that chimpanzees had encountered a group of five gorillas,” she added, referring to the first attack the team saw, in 2019.
The two meetings they recorded, which lasted 52 and 79 minutes, saw chimpanzees form coalitions and launch attacks on gorillas.
Silver gorillas and adult females protect themselves and their offspring. Both the silver backs and some adult females survived, but two baby gorillas were separated from their mothers and killed, the authors write.
“Our observations provide the first evidence that the presence of chimpanzees can have a deadly impact on gorillas. Now we want to investigate the factors that cause these surprisingly aggressive interactions,” said Tobias Deschner, a primatologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
The attacks were particularly surprising given the way the two groups of animals had previously acted. “Interactions between chimpanzees and gorillas have so far been considered relatively relaxed,” said Simone Pika, a cognitive biologist at Osnabrck University.
“We have regularly observed both species interacting peacefully in finding the trees. Our Congolese colleagues even witnessed vivid interactions between the two large ape species,” Pika said.
About 45 shimps were being observed for the study, which aimed to analyze their relationships, use of tools, communication skills and hunting, among other characteristics.
The authors suggested that gathering food with other species could have caused the outbreaks. “It may be that the sharing of food resources by chimpanzees, gorillas and forest elephants in Loango National Park results in increased competition and sometimes even deadly interactions between two large ape species,” Deschner said.
Loango National Park is a vast protected area on the Gabonese coast in sub-Saharan West Africa. It is home to elephants, buffaloes and a number of other species.
The region is home to the western lowland gorilla, which is a critically endangered species.
Chimpanzees are an endangered species, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
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