Chimps don't trade meat for sex

Published: Friday, May 28, 2010, 16:00 [IST]
 

London, May 28 (ANI): A new study has found that even though prostitution may be the world's oldest profession, sexual bartering among humans may be a recent phenomenon.

The study, conducted on male chimpanzees, found that there is no evidence to support the widespread belief of "meat for sex" trade.

"I kept finding references to 'meat for sex' all over the place, saying this is what chimpanzees do," New Scientist quoted Ian Gilby, a primatologist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, as saying.

"Knowing from observation and reading the evidence, they really don't," he stated.

Gilby went on to say that most reports of male chimps trading meat for sex are anecdotal.

Only one study has found statistically meaningful, if indirect, support for such swaps, showing that male chimpanzees are more likely to hunt for monkeys when oestrous females are around.

But when Gilby's team examined observations from four chimpanzee communities in Uganda and Tanzania spanning 28 years, they found no evidence that female fertility affected whether males hunted or not.

Other evidence also questions the idea of meat for sex. Males with access to meat were no likelier to share it with oestrous females, who can become pregnant, than with non-oestrous females.

Nor do they preferentially give meat to older females, who tend to be more likely to conceive than younger females.

Gilby's team reported that sex rarely occurs right after meat sharing, and males who share meat are no likelier to have sex than males who don't share.

The question of why then do chimpanzees share meat, if not for sex arose.

Gilby said one possibility is that chimpanzees use meat to gain coalitional support and even grooming services from other males and females.

The extent of meat sharing tends to correlate with grooming, but no one has yet demonstrated any sort of quid pro quo.

He said a more likely explanation is that chimps share meat because others beg.

He has found that the more a chimp eating meat is harassed, the more he shares; that begging slows the speed at which chimps eat meat; and that begging tends to stop one meat is shared.

"It doesn't involve males thinking about who owes them favours," Gilby said.

"It is essentially 'you're in my face bugging me, because you're there harassing me for meat I can't eat'," he explained.

The meat-for-sex hypothesis may not be ready for burial just yet, however.

Last year, Cristina Gomes and Christophe Boesch at the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, found that, over a 22-month period, female chimpanzees were more likely to mate with males who offered them meat than with males who did not share.

However, they found no evidence for immediate meat-for-sex trades, nor did they find that males who shared more meat got more sex.

Gomes said one explanation for this discrepancy could be the cost of short-term exchanges.

Males who hunt risk ceding their access to oestrous females to other chimpanzees. Long-term exchanges could be a way of gaining the benefits of meat for sex, without taking such risks.

Gomes also notes that Gilby's team examined only east African chimpanzees, and points out that the west African animals she studied in the Ivory Coast's Tao National Park behave differently.

Compared to their eastern brethren, western chimps share meat more often but have less sex. (ANI)


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