“Teen” Chimps Searching for Themselves

Benny, a large but not quite adult, male chimpanzee (Photo by Aaron Sandel)

Benny, age 14, lay on his back, eyes gazing up. No one was around. He let out a soft cry, the kind a five-year-old might make upon realizing he’s lost. Was Benny lost? In a way; he’s 14, after all. The essence of adolescence is of being lost, finding oneself. The cultural anthropologist van Gennep, who famously described rites of passage across human groups, noted three common themes during adolescence: separation, transition, and re-integration. Adolescence is like traveling alone in the forest, he notes.

While many teenagers don’t literally wander through the forest alone, whimpering, this is exactly what Benny was doing. But this isn’t surprising, as Benny is a wild chimpanzee. And he wasn’t completely alone. I was watching him.

Benny, a large but not-quite-adult male chimpanzee. (Photo by Aaron Sandel)

I’m not claiming that Benny was experiencing teen angst. But being a fourteen-year-old male chimpanzee is no easy task. After having spent their whole lives traveling with their mother, young male chimpanzees must integrate themselves into the social world of adults. This means jockeying for a high position in the dominance hierarchy, trying to mate with females, and, importantly, forming friendships with other males. With the constant threat —> Read More Here


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