Ecological and social influences on the hunting behaviour of wild chimpanzees, Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii

Ian C. Gilby, Lynn E. Eberly, Lilian Pintea, Anne E. Pusey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Scopus citations


There has been considerable discussion of the factors that influence the hunting behaviour of male chimpanzees. Explanations invoking social benefits hinge upon the potential for males to share meat with sexually receptive females in exchange for mating ('meat for sex'), or to share meat with other males in exchange for social support ('male social bonding'). Ecological factors may also affect hunting: chimpanzees may hunt more frequently (1) in response to food shortages ('nutrient shortfall'); (2) when energy reserves are high ('nutrient surplus'); (3) in habitat types with good visibility and increased prey vulnerability; and/or (4) when ecological factors favour cooperative hunting. We used 25 years of data on chimpanzees in Gombe National Park, Tanzania, to examine the relative importance of social and ecological factors in the decision to hunt red colobus monkeys, Colobus badius. The presence of sexually receptive females was associated with a significant decrease in hunting probability, suggesting that males face a trade-off between hunting and mating ('meat or sex' rather than 'meat for sex'). Hunting by specific males did not vary with adult male party size, providing evidence against the male social-bonding hypothesis. After controlling for the effects of party size, diet quality was not associated with the probability of hunting or hunting successfully. Hunts were more likely to occur and to succeed in woodland and semideciduous forest than in evergreen forest, emphasizing the importance of visibility and prey mobility. Finally, per capita meat availability decreased with adult male party size, suggesting that hunting was not cooperative. These results provide evidence against social explanations for hunting in favour of more simple ecological alternatives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)169-180
Number of pages12
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2006
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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