Sunday, October 18, 2009

Can Primates Bear Grudges?

Some of you may have heard about elephant attacks against humans.  These wonderful creatures have an extremely good memory and apparently do bear grudges and have been witnessed around the world attacking humans in retaliation for taking over territory that once belonged to them.

In December of 2000, a story originally published by Saoudi newspaper Al-Riyadh and picked up by other newspapers, including French Libération , recounted the incredible attack of a car on a road linking Mecca to Taëf.  Apparently, a car drove over a hamadryas baboon and left him dead on the road.  The members of his troop waited three long days until the car came back and launched an attack against it.  One of the baboons (a leader?) screamed when the car appeared thereby starting the bout of stone throwing at the vehicle.  The driver got out safe but the windshield was shattered.

This attack is very interesting - it tends to indicate that baboons are aware of death and that they can bear a grudge and wedge war against a perceived enemy.

In "A Social History of Dying", Allan Kellehear writes:
"The famous South African ethologist Eugene Marais (1973), author of The Soul of the Ape, records thh story of a mother chacma baboon whose offspring is accidentally injured some weeks after its birth.  When the infant is taken away, the mother shows endless signs of distress, including ceaseless calling into the night. The infant dies in treatment and is returned to the mother. The mother greets the infant with sounds of endearment, touching it with her hands and lips.  But after recognizing that the infant is dead she loses interest in the body, even when the deceased is removed from the cage.  This chacma baboon recognized death."

In "The Descent of Man: and selection in relation to sex" by Charles Darwin, Adrian Desmond and James Moore, one can read the following passage: "Sir Andrew Smith , a zoologist whose scrupulous accuracy was known to many persons, told me the following story of which he was himself an eye-witness; at the Cape of Good Hope an officer had often plagued a certain baboon, and the animal, seeing him approaching one Sunday for parade, poured water into a hole and hastily made some thick mud, which he skilfully dashed over the officer as he passed by, to the amusement of many bystanders.  For long afterwards the baboon rejoiced and triumphed whenever the saw his victim."

So, much like humans, it is possible that monkeys, as well as apes, have some awareness of the end of life and can retaliate.  The good thing is that they can also show compassion and love.

In "The Descent of Man: and selection in relation to sex" by Charles Darwin, Adrian Desmond and James Moore, one can read the following: "...Rengger observed an American monkey (a Cebus) carefully driving away the flies which plagued her infant; and Duvaucel saw a Hylobates washing faces of other young ones in the stream.  So intense is the grief of female monkeys for the loss of their young, that it invariably caused the death of certain kinds kept under confinement by Brehm in N. Africa.  Orphan monkeys were always adopted and carefully guarded by other monkeys, both males and females.  One female baboon had so capacious a heart that she not only adopted young monkeys of other species, but stole young dogs and cats, which she continually carried about."

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