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 journalArticlepeer-review

93 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 2008

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments We thank Tanzania National Parks, the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute, and the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology for permission to conduct this work. Research at Gombe is supported primarily by the Jane Goodall Institute. The U.S. National Science Foundation (grant nos. BCS-0452315, IIS-0431141), the U.S. National Institute of Health (grant no. A1058715–04), Harris Steel Group, the University of Minnesota, the Carnegie Corporation, the Windibrow Foundation, and Minnesota Base Camp provided additional support. We thank the numerous field assistants who collected the long-term data under the supervision of Anthony Collins and Shadrack Kamenya. We thank Charlotte Uhlenbroek for providing her unpublished observations, Joann Schumacher-Stankey and Deus Mjungu for data extraction and analysis, and Anthony Collins and 2 anonymous referees for helpful comments on the manuscript.


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


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