, Volume 47, Issue 3, pp 199–209

Captive female gorilla agonistic relationships with clumped defendable food resources

Original Article

DOI: 10.1007/s10329-005-0167-3

Cite this article as:
Scott, J. & Lockard, J.S. Primates (2006) 47: 199. doi:10.1007/s10329-005-0167-3


Minimal feeding competition among female mountain gorillas (Gorilla gorilla beringei) has resulted in egalitarian social relationships with poorly defined agonistic dominance hierarchies. Thus, gorillas are generally viewed as non-competitive egalitarian folivores that have had little need to develop effective competitive strategies to access food resources. However, this generalization is inconsistent with more recent research indicating that most gorillas are frugivorous, feeding on patchily distributed food resources. The current study at Howletts Wild Animal Park, Kent, England, explores the effects of clumped and defendable foods on female gorilla agonistic relationships among three groups of western lowland gorillas (G. g. gorilla), conditions that are predicted to lead to well-differentiated agonistic dominance hierarchies among female primates. The Howletts gorillas foraged all day on low-energy/-nutrient, high-fiber foods widely distributed around their enclosure by the keepers. However, they also had periodic access to high-energy foods (e.g., nuts, raisins, strawberries, etc.) that the keepers would spread in a clumped and defendable patch. Frequencies of agonistic and submissive behaviors between females and proximity data were gathered. High-status females were found to monopolize the food patch and kept the low-status females at bay with cough-grunt threat vocalizations or by chasing them away. Agonistic interactions were initiated mostly by females of high status; these were directed towards females of low status and were generally not reciprocal. In addition, females of low status engaged in submissive behaviors the most often, which they directed primarily at females of high status, especially in response to aggression by the latter. Agonistic interactions between high- and low-status females had decided outcomes more often than not, with low-status females the losers. Competition over highly desirable foods distributed in defendable clumps at Howletts appears to have led to well-defined dominance relationships among these female gorillas.


Female gorillaAgonistic relationshipsCompetitionClumped food resources

Copyright information

© Japan Monkey Centre and Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyWesleyan UniversityMiddletownUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA