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Male chimps use meat to seduce

Male chimpanzees who share meat with females over a long period of time have a better chance of mating, according to a new study published in PLoS ONE.

Studying chimps in Tai National Park, Côte d’Ivoire, researchers from the Mac Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology observed that female chimps have sex more frequently with males who have shared meat with them at least once as opposed to males who never share.

“Our results strongly suggest that wild chimpanzees exchange meat for sex, and do so on a long-term basis,” said Cristina M. Gomes, one of the researchers. “Males who shared meat with females doubled their mating success, whereas females, who had difficulty obtaining meat on their own, increased their caloric intake, without suffering the energetic costs and potential risk of injury related to hunting.”

Wild chimpanzee in Uganda. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Males were also found to be more likely to share meat with female chimps in heat, evidenced by swelling in her genitals. However, the results of the study were not altered when such occurrences were excluded from the data, leading the researchers to believe that the male chimps often thought in the long-term by sharing meat with females not yet in heat.

“Our findings add to the ever-growing evidence suggesting that chimpanzees can think in the past and the future and that this influences their present behavior,” said Christophe Boesch, one of the researchers. Scientists recently announced unambiguous evidence for long-term planning in chimpanzees from studying a chimp in a zoo who carefully collected stones to throw at visitors at a later time.

Trading meat for sex may not be unique to chimps. Similar studies have been conducted on humans in hunter-gatherer societies, where it was found that the most successful hunters had the most wives and children.

“These findings are bound to have an impact on our current knowledge about relationships between men and women;” says Gomes, “and similar studies will determine if the direct nutritional benefits that women receive from hunters in human hunter-gatherer societies could also be driving the relationship between reproductive success and good hunting skills.”

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