Did Law Enforcement Originate With Self-Policing Chimps?

Did Law Enforcement Originate With Self-Policing Chimps?

Chimp Cop may be a loose cannon, he may play hard and fast with his feces, but he’s the best damn detective this troupe has ever seen! And if there’s anyone that can defuse that banana bomb, you can bet your sweet, red arse it’s him.

While that may be the Michael Bay interpretation of a new study published in the journal PLoS ONE, it is still true to a degree. Chimpanzee society includes the role of police officer — or, more accurately, that of Peace Keeper — and a new study from the University of Zurich may illustrate why the role is necessary.

For their study, the team of Primatologists observed the social interactions of a chimpanzee troupe at a zoo in Gossau, Switzerland as well as three other zoos. This 600 hour, two-year long study spanned a period of upheaval within the Gossau group as zoo officials attempted to integrate three new adult females into the population. Even though chimpanzee society is strongly Patriarchal, adding new females will upset the existing hierarchy.

In addition to tallying conflicts (fighting over new mates) and cooperation (ritual grooming), the team watched for policing behaviour. This behaviour includes a chimp threatening both parties in a conflict equally or splitting up two fighters by jumping between them. Surprisingly, the team found that both males and females would perform this role — as opposed to only the alpha males.

The team believes this behaviour stems from altruistic needs favouring those of the group over those of the individual. They posit that policing minimizes conflict within the group and improves the quality of life for all members, including the peace-keeper. The team points to observations of the policing chimps impartially intervening more often when multiple parties were involved in the fight and greater disruption to the group dynamic was possible. [PLoS ONE via MSNBC]