London, January 10 (ANI): While being the biggest and meanest is thought to be the only way to become the alpha male with a choice of mates among most mammals, being nice appears to be a tactic to obtain this status in chimpanzee society.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota's Jane Goodall Institute Center for Primate Studies collated 10 years of behavioural data on three male chimpanzee in Gombe National Park, Tanzania, to work out which tactics chimpanzees of dramatically different sizes used both before and after they became alpha males.
They observed that Frodo, the 51.2 kilograms second-largest male ever weighed at Gombe, proved to be the quintessential bully. With consistent high rates of aggression, he was alpha male from 1997-2003.
The researchers revealed that Frodo loved being groomed by other chimps, but did not return the favour.
However, they observed, a 37-kilogram chimpanzee named Wilkie was an obsessive groomer, attended to others far more often than his rivals did, spent most of his time grooming his female partners, and still held alpha status from 1989-92.
The third chimpanzee, Freud, weighed in at 44.8 kilograms, and displayed a mixture of mild aggression and moderate grooming that helped him maintain his alpha position from 1993-1997.
Reporting their findings in the American Journal of Primatology, the researchers claimed that their study was the first to suggest that physically smaller males make up for their reduced physical characteristics by using grooming to make allies who will aid them when their time comes to try and achieve alpha-male status.
"It's kind of like when I was a teenager and the football team's quarterback lost the school's popularity poll to a wimpy, unassuming fellow who was also quick-witted. The latter fellow was able to make friends through his sense of humour and charisma, and in turn achieved a kind of alpha status over the brutish quarterback," Nature magazine quoted Foster as saying.
"This is fascinating and finally begins to quantify different strategies for attaining alpha status in males, which I don't think we've understood very well in the past," said Elizabeth Lonsdorf, a primatologist at Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, Illinois.
She further said that the belief that bullies win out was changing.
"In my experience, no two alpha males at Gombe National Park have ever used the same strategy. Some have appeared more violent, some more friendly. One learned to use tin cans to scare the bejesus out of everybody. This research is opening the door so we can further investigate and finally quantify all of these differences that we are seeing," Lonsdorf said. (ANI)