Chimpanzees caught eating the brains of their preys

In Tanzania, a study reports that chimpanzees were recently caught “sucking” on the brains of their youngest preys.

Fruits account for up to two-thirds of a chimpanzee’s diet. But they also eat flowers, eggs, honey, insects, nuts and plant marrow – the soft tissue in the center of a tree trunk. The meat (antelope or monkey) obtained by hunting represents only about 5% of the food intake of chimpanzees. But then, if meat is indeed on the menu, which parts are favored by primates? According to a recent study, it all depends on the age of the unfortunate prey.

In Gombe National Park (Tanzania), researchers recently filmed chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) eating monkeys, hoping to learn more about their carnivorous eating habits.

Whenever older monkeys were on the menu, chimpanzees tended to harvest the organs first, such as the fat-rich liver. On the other hand, if a chimpanzee caught a young monkey, it first attacked in more than 90% of cases the brain, salty and nutritious since rich in vitamins A and B12, iron, zinc and fatty acids.

Previous research has suggested that chimpanzees find monkey brains particularly attractive. Scientists cited a 1973 study, which noted that “the brain is the only organ for which a marked preference is regularly demonstrated,” adding that “ingestion of brain tissue is always a slow and meticulous procedure, performed with certain pleasure.

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For this new study, the team recorded 29 examples where chimpanzees consumed meat, and found that if the prey was young, chimpanzees first attacked the head in 91% of cases. For adult monkeys, chimpanzees were also interested in the brain, but to a lesser extent — 44% of the time.

Chimpanzees sometimes also indulge in cannibalism. A case of infanticide has even recently been reported. In 2017, biologists witnessed a rare and macabre scene in nature. Only seconds after the birth of a baby, a male of the same group rushed on the offspring before killing it and eating it in a bush. This surprising event could explain why female chimpanzees usually isolate themselves from their group at the time of giving birth, thus taking a “maternity leave” to protect their babies, conclude the researchers of this study.

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Shakes Gilles

Editor of The Talking Democrat. He enjoys bike riding, kayaking and playing soccer. On a slow weekend, you'll find him with a book by the lake.