Scavenging by chimpanzees at Ngogo and the relevance of chimpanzee scavenging to early hominin behavioral ecology

J Hum Evol. 2008 Jan;54(1):125-33. doi: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2007.07.008. Epub 2007 Sep 27.


Chimpanzees regularly hunt a variety of prey species. However, they rarely scavenge, which distinguishes chimpanzee carnivory from that of some modern hunter-gatherers and, presumably, at least some Plio-Pleistocene hominins. I use observations made over an 11-year period to document all known opportunities for scavenging encountered by chimpanzees at Ngogo, Kibale National Park, Uganda, and describe all cases of scavenging. I also review data on scavenging from other chimpanzee research sites. Chimpanzees at Ngogo encountered scavenging opportunities only about once per 100 days and ate meat from scavenged carcasses only four times. Scavenging opportunities are also rare at other sites, even where leopards are present (Mahale, Taï, Gombe), and scavenging of leopard kills is known only from Mahale. Feeding on prey that chimpanzees had hunted but then abandoned is the most common form of scavenging reported across study sites. For example, several individuals at Ngogo ate meat from a partially consumed red colobus carcass abandoned after a hunt the previous day. Such behavior probably was not common among Oldowan hominins. Ngogo data and those from other sites also show that chimpanzees sometimes eat meat from carcasses of prey that they did not see killed and that were not killed by chimpanzees, and that scavenging allows access to carcasses larger than those of any prey items. However, chimpanzees ignore relatively many opportunities to obtain meat from such carcasses. Scavenging may be rare because fresh carcasses are rare, because the risk of bacterial infections and zoonoses is high, and because chimpanzees may not recognize certain species as potential prey or certain size classes of prey species as food sources. Its minimal nutritional importance, along with the absence of technology to facilitate confrontational scavenging and rapid carcass processing, apparently distinguishes chimpanzee foraging strategies from those of at least some Oldowan hominins.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Ecology
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Female
  • Hominidae / physiology*
  • Male
  • Pan troglodytes / physiology
  • Pan troglodytes / psychology*
  • Uganda