Sex at Dawn

Exploring the evolutionary origins of modern sexuality

Cannibalistic Hippy Orgy-War Breaks Out!

They smugly reported bonobos at war. They lied.

For a certain type of journalist (or evolutionary psychologist), nothing is more satisfying than exposing hippy hypocrisy.

The headline from Reuters reads, Hippie apes make war as well as love, study finds.  Another smugly assures us that Despite 'peacenik' reputation, bonobos hunt and eat other primates too. A third, under the headline, Sex Crazed Apes Feast on Killing, Too, opens with, "As hippies had Altamont [where Hell's Angels killed concert-goers], so bonobos have Salonga National Park, where scientists have witnessed the supposedly peace-loving primate hunting and eating monkey children." Sex crazed?" "Monkey children?"

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The Reuters article starts out, “Despite their reputation as lovers, not fighters, of the primate world, bonobos actually hunt and kill monkeys….”

Uh-oh. If both chimps and bonobos make war, mainstream neo-Hobbesian evolutionary psychologists and primatologists like Richard Wrangham must be right when he says we are “the dazed survivors of a continuous, 5-million-year habit of lethal aggression.”

But a closer look reveals that it’s the journalists who must be a bit dazed. The German researchers, Martin Surbeck and Gottfried Hohmann from the Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology reported witnessing ten attempts to hunt monkeys over five years of observing the bonobos in question. The bonobos were successful three times, sharing the monkey meat among the hunters — mixed groups of males and females.

War?

A brief reality check for science journalists:

  • Researchers have long known that bonobos regularly eat meat, generally small jungle antelopes known as duikers – as well as squirrels, insects, grubs, etc.
  • The evolutionary line leading to humans, chimps, and bonobos split from that leading to monkeys around 30 million years ago. Chimps and bonobos, in other words, share as much DNA with monkeys as we do.
  • Monkey meat (and, disgustingly, live monkey brain) is on the menu at upper-scale Chinese restaurants in many parts of the world.
  • Monkey meat is eaten by both native people and villagers in Africa, South America, parts of Indonesia, and elsewhere.
  • Thousands of monkeys are sacrificed in research laboratories throughout the world every year.
  • Are humans at war with monkeys?


Listen journalists, we know nothing sells newspapers like WAR! and that CANNIBALISTIC HIPPY ORGY-WAR! would probably sell even more, but one species hunting and eating members of another species is not war, it’s dinner. The fact that bonobos and monkeys look similar to human eyes is not relevant. When a pack of wolves or coyotes attacks a stray dog, is that war? Is it fish war when a big fish eats a smaller fish who’s already eaten an even smaller fish?

Leave the hippies alone.

Christopher Ryan, Ph.D., is co-author of Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality (HarperCollins 2010).

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