Causes of death in the Kasekela chimpanzees of Gombe National Park, Tanzania.

J. M. Williams, E. V. Lonsdorf, M. L. Wilson, J. Schumacher-Stankey, J. Goodall, A. E. Pusey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

95 Scopus citations


Understanding the rates and causes of mortality in wild chimpanzee populations has important implications for a variety of fields, including wildlife conservation and human evolution. Because chimpanzees are long-lived, accurate mortality data requires very long-term studies. Here, we analyze 47 years of data on the Kasekela community in Gombe National Park. Community size fluctuated between 38 and 60, containing 60 individuals in 2006. From records on 220 chimpanzees and 130 deaths, we found that the most important cause of mortality in the Kasekela community was illness (58% of deaths with known cause), followed by intraspecific aggression (20% of deaths with known cause). Previous studies at other sites also found that illness was the primary cause of mortality and that some epidemic disease could be traced to humans. As at other study sites, most deaths due to illness occurred during epidemics, and the most common category of disease was respiratory. Intraspecific lethal aggression occurred within the community, including the killing of infants by both males and females, and among adult males during the course of dominance-related aggression. Aggression between communities resulted in the deaths of at least five adult males and two adult females in the Kasekela and Kahama communities. The frequency of intercommunity violence appears to vary considerably among sites and over time. Intercommunity lethal aggression involving the Kasekela community was observed most frequently during two periods. Other less common causes of death included injury, loss of mother, maternal disability, and poaching.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)766-777
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican journal of primatology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2008

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