, Volume 38, Issue 1, pp 1-14

Skeletal evidence of trauma in African apes, with special reference to the gombe chimpanzees

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Abstract

Incidence of cranial and postcranial skeletal trauma was investigated in samples of chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes troglodytes, P. troglodytes schweinfurthii), lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla), and bonobos (P. paniscus). The larger (adult) samples of chimpanzees (N=127 crania, 92 postcrania) and gorillas (N=136 crania, 62 postcrania) are curated at the Powell-Cotton Museum, Birchington, U.K. The bonobo collection (N=71 crania, 15 postcrania) is housed the Musée Royal de l'Afrique Centrale in Tervuren, Belgium. In addition, data were collected on the small but extremely well-documented skeletal sample from Gombe National Park (N=14 crania, 13 postcrania — including adults and adolescents). Cranial injuries, including healed fractures and bite wounds, were fairly frequent in the museum collection of chimpanzees (5.5% of individuals), but were twice as frequent in gorillas (11.0%). In the Gombe sample an even higher incidence was observed (28.6% of individuals). Bonobos, however, showed the lowest incidence of cranial trauma found among any of the African ape samples (1.4% of individuals). Postcranial trauma, documented most clearly by healed fractures, was seen in 21.7% of the Powell-Cotton chimpanzees, 30.8% of Gombe chimpanzees, 17.7% of gorillas, and in 13.3% of bonobos. Most of these lesions were found in the upper appendage. Nevertheless, highly debilitating healed fractures of the femur were also noted, most frequently and severe in female gorillas. The pattern of injuries suggests serious risks of falling in all free-ranging African apes, but also (in chimpanzees and gorillas) considerable risk from interindividual aggression, especially for males.