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Family Life
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Chimp mother and child

Mothers and babies share close relationships.

Along with physical appearance and behavior, we share a similar family structure with most other primates: the close, loving bond between mother and child is common to us and our cousins. In addition, ape and monkey societies can sometimes eerily resemble our own. For instance, as we see on NATURE, captive Japanese macaques crammed into an area too small for their numbers are stressed and unsociable -- a situation with which city-dwelling humans can probably sympathize.

These monkeys don't make eye contact with each other, and they avoid physical contact except with family members. This living situation creates an "every monkey for himself" attitude, where macaques steal one another's food and act aggressively towards their neighbors.

Apes and monkeys in the wild live in close-knit families, generally isolated from other groups. They can be extremely territorial and aggressive if threatened. Recently, biologists studying chimpanzees in western Africa noticed a huge decline in the chimps' numbers as logging operations neared their home range. It seems that the loggers' machines chase chimps across territorial borders, resulting in a deadly conflict between opposing chimp groups.

Even within their own families, chimps often react violently toward each other when a stressful situation arises. Chimpanzee society is organized into a highly charged political hierarchy, which is dramatically demonstrated in MONKEY IN THE MIRROR. Chimps may vie for the dominant position within a group, but only the ones that acquire the respect of other troop members can succeed.

Primates groom each other to strengthen social bonds.

In the case seen on NATURE, a chimp named Nsaba, a would-be leader of the troop, is vanquished by the older male Kalunde and his supporters. Defeated, Nsaba shows his submission by grooming Kalunde. Grooming, a behavior common to every primate species, serves to reinforce the connection between family and troop members. Later, Nsaba builds up support for his cause among the troop by grooming other chimps. After he gains his followers' trust, Nsaba is able to rally them together and oust Kalunde. His coup successful, Nsaba now reigns.

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