[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
By NATALIE ANGIER
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or disappeared and been replaced by males from the outside.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.
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