Meat Eating by Wild Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii): Effects of Prey Age on Carcass Consumption Sequence

Abstract

Despite the fact that many primates consume vertebrate prey, surprisingly little is known about the nutritional benefits of eating meat for members of this diverse order. Although chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) primarily eat plant source foods, especially fruit, they consume vertebrate prey with excitement, attesting to its nutritional value. Meat is a concentrated source of macro- and micronutrients; however, a carcass is not a uniform package. For example, the mammalian brain has considerably higher fat content than lean muscle tissue. The brain both has great caloric value and contains high concentrations of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are critical for normal brain function. It thus represents a large, nutrient-dense source of energy and essential nutrients that should be highly valued. We filmed consumption of 29 arboreal monkeys by chimpanzees at Gombe National Park, Tanzania, and recorded the order in which general regions of the body were consumed. Overall, the head was significantly more likely to be targeted first than either the torso (including viscera) or appendages. This result was driven by subadult prey, 91% of which were eaten head-first, probably because their skulls were relatively easy for chimpanzees to break with a single bite. Possessors of adult prey (with robust skulls) often first selected the viscera, probably to harvest the fat-rich liver, thus maximizing immediate return in the face of the threat of harassment or theft. This has important implications for our understanding of the nutritional benefits of meat eating among primates, and highlights the need for future studies that measure the nutritional content of specific tissues and examine which are preferentially consumed or shared.

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Acknowledgments

Funding was provided by the L. S. B. Leakey Foundation, Sigma Xi, The Animal Behavior Society, The Explorers Club, The Dayton–Wilkie Natural History Fund, the University of Minnesota’s Grants for Research Abroad Program, and the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior at the University of Minnesota. We thank the Tanzanian Commission for Science and Technology, the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute, Tanzania National Parks, and the Jane Goodall Institute for allowing us to conduct research at Gombe. We are extremely grateful to Anthony Collins, Shadrack Kamenya, Amri Almasi, Kadaha John, and Iddi Issa for their invaluable assistance in the field. Thanks also to Rob O’Malley, Zarin Machanda, Editor-in-Chief Joanna Setchell, Associate Editor Jessica Rothman, and two anonymous reviewers for valuable comments on the manuscript.

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Gilby, I.C., Wawrzyniak, D. Meat Eating by Wild Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii): Effects of Prey Age on Carcass Consumption Sequence. Int J Primatol 39, 127–140 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10764-018-0019-9

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Keywords

  • Diet
  • Meat eating
  • Meat-scrap hypothesis
  • Pan troglodytes
  • Polyunsaturated fatty acids
  • Predation