CZAAWE Resource Article

Competition Coalitions and Conflict Interventions among Captive Female Gorillas
Publication Type 
Journal Article
Year of publication 
2007
Authors 
Publication/Journal 
International Journal of Primatology
ISBN 
0164-0291 1573-8604
Abstract 
Like mountain gorillas (Gorilla gorilla beringei), western gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) at Howletts Wild Animal Park in Kent, England, intervene in conflicts on behalf of kin. However, in each of the 3 study groups, the female gorillas also appeared to form political alliances: all members of the group almost exclusively supported familiar adult females, i.e., the ones with the greatest group tenure, and their offspring in conflicts involving adult females, the silverback, and immatures. The long-term resident high-status females (HSFs) appeared to form a supportive clique, providing effective competition against low-status females (LSFs). The former maintained dominance status over younger, less familiar adult females that were more recent to the group. Such a pattern is not typical of mountain gorillas in the wild—the subspecies for which data on female relationships are available— except perhaps when groups are unusually large, possibly because mountain gorillas experience little competition over food resources that are widely distributed and relatively freely available. In contrast, the Howletts gorillas had periodic and irregular access to high-energy/-nutrient food resources, for which dominant individuals were able to monopolize the limited available feeding spots. The pattern of agonistic alliances of Howletts females show some similarities with that of some female-philopatric cercopithecines, which also compete over defendable food resources. In female-transfer species, such as gorillas, long-term resident female cliques may be equivalent to matrilines in cercopithecines when resources are patchily distributed, highly nutritious, and defendable.