[Marxism] Once the "Most Despotic Males" Are Killed Off . . .
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
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died or disappeared and been replaced by males from the outside.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,"
"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." . . .
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