[Marxism] Once the "Most Despotic Males" Are Killed Off . . .

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at osu.edu
Wed Apr 14 10:54:24 MDT 2004


*****   The New York Times, April 13, 2004
No Time for Bullies: Baboons Retool Their Culture
By NATALIE ANGIER

Sometimes 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died or disappeared and been replaced by males from the outside.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.

The researchers were able to compare the behavior and physiology of 
the contemporary Forest Troop primates to two control groups: a 
similar-size baboon congregation living nearby, called the Talek 
Troop, and the Forest Troop itself from 1979 through 1982, the era 
that might be called Before Alpha Die-off, or B.A.D.

"It's a really fine, thorough piece of work, with the sort of 
methodology and lucky data sets that you can only get from doing 
long-term field research," said Dr. Duane Quiatt, a primatologist at 
the University of Colorado at Denver and a co-author with Vernon 
Reynolds of the 1993 book "Primate Behaviour: Information, Social 
Knowledge and the Evolution of Culture." . . .

The report also offers real-world proof of a principle first 
demonstrated in captive populations of monkeys: that with the right 
upbringing, diplomacy is infectious. Dr. Frans B. M. de Waal, the 
director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate 
Research Center of Emory University in Atlanta, has shown that if the 
normally pugilistic rhesus monkeys are reared with the more 
conciliatory stumptailed monkeys, the rhesus monkeys learn the value 
of tolerance, peacemaking and mutual hip-hugging.

Dr. de Waal, who wrote an essay to accompany the new baboon study, 
said in a telephone interview, "The good news for humans is that it 
looks like peaceful conditions, once established, can be maintained," 
he said.

"And if baboons can do it," he said, "why not us? The bad news is 
that you might have to first knock out all the most aggressive males 
to get there." . . .

<http://www.nytimes.com/2004/04/13/science/13BABO.html>   *****
-- 
Yoshie

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