On Tuesday, an adult male chimp killed a baby chimp in their enclosure at the Los Angeles Zoo. I spoke with Craig Stanford, co-director of USC’s Jane Goodall Research Center, about how common this behavior is and what its likely cause might be.
How common is this type of thing among chimps?
It is important to know that this is something that happens in the wild also. Male chimps are prone to taking babies and killing them, usually babies they are very confident are not their own babies. It’s shocking for a visitor to see, I know, but it’s something that primatologists are accustomed to seeing regularly. It’s definitely not a result of captive confinement or anything like that. It’s part of their behavior.
Is there a likely explanation?
Exact circumstances are known only to the chimps themselves, but it’s likely due to the normal politics of that chimp group, the relationships among the different animals. This is something that, unfortunately, it does happen. It could be because the male views the baby as future competition.
The most frequent scenarios in the wild are, one, a male who is from another community kills a baby that is attached to a female. The male encounters the female, a mom, at his territorial border and he kills it, and sometimes he even eats it. But the most common way it’s seen is that females will sometimes take and kill each other’s babies. But this scenario [at the L.A. Zoo] was a male.