Wars Aren't Unique To Humans: Bloody 4-Year Gombe Chimpanzee War

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Perhaps it would be everybody's assumption that there are no other species other than humans that engage in wars. We mostly see ourselves as the monsters and think that animals kill in nature because it is the only way for them to feed themselves, and therefore survive. That is more than rational and acceptable.

However, there is a war between animals in history, which is also listed as 'Military Conflict' in Wikipedia: Gombe Chimpanzee War. This unusual war lasted for 4 years and was pretty bloody.

We, humans, aren't as unique as we think!

This war took place between 1974-1978 in Gombe National Park in Tanzania; between two chimpanzee communities.


And these two opposing communities are named Kasakela and Kahama.

While Kasakela group controled the north, Kahama was running the south.


Before the war, there was a piece in this national park for years. Jane Goodall, who was a famous primatologist, realized that there was something wrong in 1974. She observed that grouping was in progress. Goodall, who further investigated this conflict, made an invaluable contribution to the science of ethology: Gombe Chimpanzee War.

Although Goodall detected in-group dissolution in 1974, the computer aided analyses carried on her field notes showed that this dissolution dated back to 1971.


According to her notes, Kahama group consisted of 6 adult males, 3 females, their babies and a 'child' chimpanzee named "Sniff."

The other group, Kasakela, however, was larger. 12 females, babies and 8 adult males.

The events escalated on January 7, 1974.


6 adult males from Kasakela group, violently attacked and killed "Godi," one of the males in Kahama group. This was the first attack of the war.

Considering the official and scientific records, this was the first time that any of the chimpanzees had been seen to deliberately kill a fellow chimp.

The following 4 years, the chimpanzees in Gombe national park had no peace at all.


During this 4-year war, 6 males of Kahama group were also killed by the warriors of Kasakela. One of the Kahama females was killed, two disappeared, and three were beaten and kidnapped by Kasakela males. The events were simply gory and Jane Goodall explained them in her book:

"For several years I struggled to come to terms with this new knowledge. Often when I woke in the night, horrific pictures sprang unbidden to my mind—Satan [one of the apes], cupping his hand below Sniff's chin to drink the blood that welled from a great wound on his face; old Rodolf, usually so benign, standing upright to hurl a four-pound rock at Godi's prostrate body; Jomeo tearing a strip of skin from Dé's thigh; Figan, charging and hitting, again and again, the stricken, quivering body of Goliath, one of his childhood heroes."

After all the successful attacks, Kasakela tribe gradually started to seize the territory of Kahama group.


However, the Kasakela's victory wasn't long-lasting. Elimination of Kahama disturbed the power balance in Gombe National park. Thanks to their larger territory, Kasakela became neighbors with another community of chimpanzees: the 'Kalande.' Brisk and strong advancements of Kasakela led Kalande individuals to follow a defensive strategy.

And what is interesting is that the Kalande chimpanzees were superior to Kasakela, both in terms of population and strength.


In order to stop their advance and see how much they want to acquire new territory, Kalande chimps attacked the new territories of Kasakela a couple of times. The Kasakela almost gave into the Kalande and had to leave some of the new territory they had recently acquired.

That is how the Gombe Chimpanzee War became the first chimpanzee war that humans witnessed; both in history and science.


Some scientists accused Goodall of excessive anthropomorphism; others suggested that her presence, and her practice of feeding the chimpanzees, had created violent conflict in a naturally peaceful society. However, later research using less intrusive methods confirmed that chimpanzee war occurred naturally.

Lastly, here is a video about this unusual war:

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