No evidence of short-term exchange of meat for sex among chimpanzees

Ian C. Gilby, M. Emery Thompson, Jonathan D. Ruane, Richard Wrangham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Scopus citations


The meat-for-sex hypothesis posits that male chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) trade meat with estrous females in exchange for short-term mating access. This notion is widely cited in the anthropological literature and has been used to construct scenarios about human evolution. Here we review the theoretical and empirical basis for the meat-for-sex hypothesis. We argue that chimpanzee behavioral ecology does not favor the evolution of such exchanges because 1) female chimpanzees show low mate selectivity and require little or no material incentive to mate, violating existing models of commodity exchange; and 2) meat-for-sex exchanges are unlikely to provide reproductive benefits to either partner. We also present new analyses of 28 years of data from two East African chimpanzee study sites (Gombe National Park, Tanzania; Kanyawara, Kibale National Park, Uganda) and discuss the results of previously published studies. In at least three chimpanzee communities, 1) the presence of sexually receptive females did not increase hunting probability, 2) males did not share preferentially with sexually receptive females, and 3) sharing with females did not increase a male's short-term mating success. We acknowledge that systematic meat sharing by male chimpanzees in expectation of, or in return for, immediate copulations might be discovered in future studies. However, current data indicate that such exchanges are so rare, and so different in nature from exchanges among humans, that with respect to chimpanzees, sexual bartering in humans should be regarded as a derived trait with no known antecedents in the behavior of wild chimpanzees.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)44-53
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of human evolution
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Biological markets
  • Food sharing
  • Hunting
  • Mate provisioning
  • Meat eating
  • Reciprocity
  • Tolerated theft

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Anthropology


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