After a flurry of screams, teeth, and fur, the old leader lay beaten and dead. Members of the community turned on him, a male chimp known as Foudouko, in a rare example of lethal intragroup aggression. Reported in the journal Springer, Foudouko’s rise to the top, and then plunge to death, reads like something from a Shakespearean tragedy.
Thirteen years ago, a teenage Foudouko ruled the community of chimps at Fongoli in Senegal with an iron fist, maintaining the top spot as the alpha male. Supporting him during his tyrannical rein was the beta of the group, a male named Mamadou.
But an accident befell Mamadou in 2007, and after weeks of absence, he returned injured. Unable to maintain his position in the community due to his injuries, he slipped down the social ladder. This had a disastrous impact on Foudouko’s position at the top, whose main ally now resided at the bottom of the pile. Foudouko was subsequently ousted by other males in the community.
A social outcast, Foudouko retreated into the bush on his own, effectively living in exile. For years, the researchers would only spot him every six months or so, as the fallen leader kept to himself on the outskirts of the community. But over time, Mamadou managed to climb back up the hierarchy, and by 2013 he had worked his way back to his old position as a beta male, but this time to his brother David.
At this point, Foudouko decided to try and regain entry into the community, as it was his only way to find a mate in an environment in which chimp groups are few and far between. Slowly, he worked his way back in, but at this point a group of five younger males were also trying their hand at becoming alpha. They periodically chased him away from the group, but Foudouko always returned.
According to the researchers, this is where he may have made his fatal mistake. Rather than being content with just being in the community, Foudouko retained his ambitions and wanted to reclaim his position at the top of the hierarchy. Early one morning, the other males made their move.
Foudouko was found dead, bleeding from wounds inflicted all across his body. His bones were broken, he had deep gashes, and there were cuts consistent with others holding him down by his arms during the attack. Even after his death, which likely occurred from either internal injury, blood loss, or both, members of the community continued to beat him with sticks, stones, and fists. Some even cannibalized bits of him.
During this incredible barrage, though, his old allay Mamadou and his brother David did not really participate. The tale of the former friend did not end there, however, as following Foudouko’s brutal end, the same group of young chimps then rounded on Mamadou, pushing him from his beta position and exiling him from the community to wander the bush as Foudouko once did before.
While intergroup killings have been well documented between chimp communities, intragroup killings are rare. The researchers think that the unique makeup of the community seen at Fongoli, in which rather than there being more females than males, there are more males than females, may mean that competition for mates is incredibly high, leading to horrific levels of aggression.