‘Big Mama’ Bonobos To Bullies: Don’t Mess With Us

Talk about girl power—older female bonobos frequently come to the rescue of younger females being bullied by males, researchers have found.

AsianScientist (Jul. 28, 2016) – Bullying happens in the primate world too. Japanese primatologists report in Animal Behavior that older bonobo females frequently aid younger females when males behave aggressively towards them.

“We may have uncovered one of the ways in which females maintain a superior status in bonobo society,” said lead author Dr. Nahoko Tokuyama of Kyoto University.

In their study, Tokuyama and fellow researcher Takeshi Furuichi observed a group of wild bonobos at Wamba in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“Primate females sometimes forge partnerships to attack others. Typically, such coalitions are formed between relatives to protect useful resources from non-relatives,” said Tokuyama.

“For bonobos, females leave their birth group during adolescence, so females in a group are generally non-relative to each other. Despite this, they frequently form coalitions; a major research goal for us was to highlight the dynamics in which coalition-forming happens in non-relative individuals.”

Through four years of observation, the researchers found that all female coalitions were formed to attack males, usually after males behaved aggressively toward one or more females. They also found that older females have better chances of winning when the battle is one-on-one, and when females form alliances, they always win over males.

What’s more, the older females do not play favorites. Whether a younger female is friendlier with the older female has no relation to whether the older female comes to help.

Tokuyama observed that coalition-forming in female bonobos may have evolved as a way to combat male harassment.

“Young females have a lower social status than males, but protection from older females seem to let young females join the group without fear of being attacked by males. By controlling aggression by males in this manner, females maintain overall superiority in the social hierarchy,” Tokuyama said.

Tokuyama added that this protective behavior is beneficial for the older females as well, because the younger females start spending more time with them in hopes of getting protection. This way, the older female can give her son more opportunities to mate with the younger females. Such partnerships, Tokuyama noted, might in fact be the very factor that fosters gregariousness and promotes tolerance among females.

The article can be found at: Tokuyama and Furuichi (2016) Do Friends Help Each Other? Patterns of Female Coalition Formation in Wild Bonobos at Wamba.


Source: Kyoto University.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Asian Scientist Magazine is an award-winning science and technology magazine that highlights R&D news stories from Asia to a global audience. The magazine is published by Singapore-headquartered Wildtype Media Group.

Related Stories from Asian Scientist