[Marxism] Interesting article on baboons adopting more congenial behavior after alpha males died off

M. Junaid Alam junaidalam at msalam.net
Mon Apr 12 20:18:12 MDT 2004

No Time for Bullies: Baboons Retool Their Culture

Published: April 13, 2004

ometimes it takes the great Dustbuster of fate to clear the room of 
bullies and bad habits. Freak cyclones helped destroy Kublai Khan's 
brutal Mongolian empire, for example, while the Black Death of the 14th 
century capsized the medieval theocracy and gave the Renaissance a 
chance to shine.

Among a troop of savanna baboons in Kenya, a terrible outbreak of 
tuberculosis 20 years ago selectively killed off the biggest, nastiest 
and most despotic males, setting the stage for a social and behavioral 
transformation unlike any seen in this notoriously truculent primate.

In a study appearing today in the journal PloS Biology (online at 
www.plosbiology.org), researchers describe the drastic temperamental and 
tonal shift that occurred in a troop of 62 baboons when its most 
belligerent members vanished from the scene. The victims were all 
dominant adult males that had been strong and snarly enough to fight 
with a neighboring baboon troop over the spoils at a tourist lodge 
garbage dump, and were exposed there to meat tainted with bovine 
tuberculosis, which soon killed them. Left behind in the troop, 
designated the Forest Troop, were the 50 percent of males that had been 
too subordinate to try dump brawling, as well as all the females and 
their young. With that change in demographics came a cultural swing 
toward pacifism, a relaxing of the usually parlous baboon hierarchy, and 
a willingness to use affection and mutual grooming rather than threats, 
swipes and bites to foster a patriotic spirit.

Remarkably, the Forest Troop has maintained its genial style over two 
decades, even though the male survivors of the epidemic have since died 
or disappeared and been replaced by males from the outside. (As is the 
case for most primates, baboon females spend their lives in their natal 
home, while the males leave at puberty to seek their fortunes 
elsewhere.) The persistence of communal comity suggests that the 
resident baboons must somehow be instructing the immigrants in the 
unusual customs of the tribe.

"We don't yet understand the mechanism of transmittal," said Dr. Robert 
M. Sapolsky, a professor of biology and neurology at Stanford, "but the 
jerky new guys are obviously learning, `We don't do things like that 
around here.' " Dr. Sapolsky wrote the report with his colleague and 
wife, Dr. Lisa J. Share.

Dr. Sapolsky, who is renowned for his study of the physiology of stress, 
said that the Forest Troop baboons probably felt as good as they acted. 
Hormone samples from the monkeys showed far less evidence of stress in 
even the lowest-ranking individuals, when contrasted with baboons living 
in more rancorous societies.

full: http://nytimes.com/2004/04/13/science/13BABO.html

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