Severe aggression among female Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii at Gombe National Park, Tanzania

Anne Pusey, Carson Murray, William Wallauer, Michael L Wilson, Emily Wroblewski, Jane Goodall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

75 Scopus citations


Aggression is generally more severe between males than between females because males gain greater payoffs from escalated aggression. Males that successfully defeat rivals may greatly increase their access to fertile females. Because female reproductive success depends on long-term access to resources, competition between females is often sustained but low key because no single interaction leads to a high payoff. Nonetheless, escalated aggression can sometimes immediately improve a female's reproductive success. Resisting new immigrants can reduce feeding competition, and infanticide of other females' young can increase a female's access to resources. East African chimpanzees live in fission-fusion communities in which females occupy overlapping core areas. Growing evidence indicates that reproductive success correlates with core area quality, and that females compete for long-term access to core areas. Here we document 5 new cases of severe female aggression in the context of such competition: 2 attacks by resident females on an immigrant female, a probable intracommunity infanticide, and 2 attacks on a female and her successive newborn infants by females whose core areas overlapped hers. The cases provide further evidence that females are occasionally as aggressive as males. Factors influencing the likelihood and severity of such attacks include rank and size differences and the presence of dependable allies. Counterstrategies to the threat of female aggression include withdrawing from others around the time of parturition and seeking male protection. We also discuss an unusual case of a female taking the newborn infant of another, possibly to protect it from a potentially infanticidal female.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)949-973
Number of pages25
JournalInternational Journal of Primatology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1 2008


  • Aggression
  • Chimpanzee
  • Female competition
  • Gombe
  • Infanticide
  • Pan troglodytes

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