Chimpanzee Violence

January 7th, 2017 by Diana

A couple of days ago, there was fight in the chimp house that resulted in a significant injury to one of Negra’s toes. We are monitoring it to determine if intervention will be necessary, and she’s on antibiotics and pain relief.

You’d never know that she had the injury unless you actually saw it, though – Negra’s behavior is no different than normal and she was showing no signs of being in pain, even before we started her on the pain relief.

I’m just going to throw some photos of Negra in here. They aren’t from today, but they do show what Negra’s behavior is generally like:

Negra protruding lip sleep

She is getting some extra attention from the other chimpanzees because any injury is of interest to the group, with other chimps always wanting to inspect and groom wounds.

burrito grooming negra


Chimpanzees can be really intense. We’ve shared information about conflicts and injuries before, and I’ve linked to a few blog posts on this topic at the end of this one, in case you are interested in further contemplation on fighting and making up as a chimpanzee. And there was this story about a conflict that resulted in one of Jody’s toes being bitten off (don’t worry – there are no gory photos in the post).

You may or may not have noticed that a few of the chimpanzees at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest are missing parts of ears, fingers, and toes. Most of these injuries occurred before the chimpanzees came to the sanctuary, though some have been from conflicts that have taken place in their sanctuary home.

Burrito's eye


I accept that chimpanzees can be extremely violent. I respect that serious conflict is part of their natural behavior in social groups. That doesn’t always mean that I can just shrug off conflicts and injuries. It can be difficult to process the many facets of  chimpanzees and to know that sometimes one chimpanzee who I care deeply about will hurt another chimpanzee who I care deeply about and that this will happen when I am the one responsible for the health and well being of all of the chimps here.

Maybe this is a little heavy of a blog topic.

It got me thinking about human relationships too. I often find myself explaining minor chimpanzee conflicts, which may seem like a major conflict if you’re not familiar with chimpanzees, as equivalent to a heated human verbal argument. I wonder, though, if that’s not a good comparison. After all, humans are also incredibly violent to one another.

Let’s face it, being a social primate is not that easy. We gain a lot with our social relationships, but we still have competing interests that have to be worked out one way or another; and then sometimes we’re just in a bad mood.

A recent non-invasive study of a wild population of chimpanzees was just published that found an increase in the hormone oxytocin during conflicts. Oxytocin, sometimes referred to as the “love hormone,” is perhaps most known for studies that have shown surges of the chemical in human and other animal mothers when they are with their newborns, and it’s thought to intensify the mother-infant bond. Clearly, the full extent of what oxytocin does and when it is produced is expanding. The theory put forth in this article and others about the increase of oxytocin during conflicts is that it bonds chimpanzees to their group and against a common adversary.

Perhaps the oxytocin-surge aids in the post-conflict bonding that happens with chimpanzees as well. Reconciliation is at least as important as the conflicts themselves in chimpanzees – they generally come together within minutes of a conflict ending in pairs or groups and inspect each other and groom.

Perhaps the immediate reconciliation aspect of fighting is the lesson that humans really could take from chimpanzees.


As I said above, we’ve covered the topics of aggression, conflict, violence, and reconciliation of chimpanzees  in other posts before. Here are a few past blog posts if you are interested in more perspectives on these topics:

Full Spectrum Chimpanzees


Conflict and Reassurance

Conflict and Reconciliation


The True Nature of Chimpanzees



10 Responses to “Chimpanzee Violence”

  1. Donna Oleksiuk says:

    This is a great post, Diana. I think it’s really good that you share with us the full spectrum of chimpanzee behavior. I think we need to stay clear of romanticizing any animal and we seem especially prone to do this with those that are close to us on the DNA spectrum. It is always hard to process harm and aggression between those we love, be they human, chimp, or any other species we care for. Thank you for sharing this story today. Your respect and love for the chimpanzees is clear in the way you tell us what happened. Thank you for loving them as they really are – for loving them unconditionally!

  2. Cherie Erwin says:

    Thank you for keeping us in the loop. I’m new to your emails and it keeps you present in my mind and heart.

  3. Dalyce says:

    Oh poor Negra – thank you for taking such good care of her … I love pictures of her sleeping with a blanket. Sad to think of so many years without such a comfort.

  4. Cherie Bescript says:

    Another excellent post about the complexity and similarity of chimps and humans. Thank you!

  5. CeeCee says:

    Did you see what happened to start the fight?
    Or any fight? I wonder what sets it off, my guess is that
    Jamie was involved, but only because she seems to be involved in everything.
    Thank you for this post, I think
    Everything about them is so interesting, Even the fights.
    I hope Negra can get some extra treats 🙂

  6. Jo says:

    Very interesting and thought provoking post and I appreciate it very much. I soooo agree about what humans should learn from the chimps reconciliation behavior!!!!!!!!!!!!! I observe animals everywhere I go (birds, squirrels, racoons, deer, etc) and across all species it seems there are conflicts and angers toward one another ~ it’s the way of the world we find ourselves in. I hope Negra can heal and I will send healing energies to her and to you all ~ WONDERFUL work you do ~ hugs to all!

  7. Kathleen says:

    This is such an informative post Diana, thank you so much for your thoughtful, experienced perspective. And I know you know I gasped at the lead-in to this post. My beloved Negra injured?!? Oh dear, I hope she will be alright. I have to ask, did she loose her toe? Was it a group dispute/conflict or a conflict between Negra and another chimp? I guess much like yourself, even from afar it is hard to imagine the chimps in a conflict where pain is the end result, even if you understand that this is what they do.

    Thank you for all the links you included as well as the link to the New Scientist study. Please keep us up-to-date with Negra’s progress. I think I see double Night Time Nut Bags in her future!

  8. Nancy says:

    Thank you for your in-depth explanation of chimp behavior. Extremely interesting!

  9. Thank you for this post. Very important stuff to ponder

  10. Elaine Reininger says:

    I seem to recall Negra was bullying one of the other chimps just a week or so ago. I felt sorry for the other chimp who seemed to be looking out at the caretaker with the camera as if to say “can’t you help”– is Negra the one who instigated todays conflict and did any of you witnessed what it over (food, toy???)