An uncertain time for adolescent males at Kanyawara

By Drew Enigk (University of New Mexico)

This summer I returned to Kibale National Park to continue my field research on adolescence in the Kanyawara chimpanzees. I am interested in the process by which young male chimpanzees establish social relationships with the adult males of their community, and the benefits that these bonds might confer on males as they approach adulthood. This is a particularly exciting time for my study because the Kanyawara community is without a clearly defined alpha male. I am interested to see how this temporary period of uncertainty will influence each subadult male’s pattern of association with the adult males. Will a young male target one or more specific adult males for association? Or will he invest equally in all of the community’s male in his attempt to form lasting social relationships? How does the current lack of a strong alpha affect his choices?

My pilot data suggest that the adolescent males at Kanyawara pursue varying strategies of association with adult males. Some males preferentially target one or two specific adults for association, while others spread their social investment across all of the community’s adult males. In my continued research at Kanyawara, I hope to determine what factors shape a male’s strategy of association as he passes through adolescence and enters adulthood. Because the chimpanzees at Kanyawara have been observed continuously since the 1980’s, I will be able to look back to an adolescent’s early life environment and determine whether any preference for associating with a particular adult was evident at an earlier age. My research will ultimately contribute to our understanding of how adolescent male chimpanzees navigate the dually cooperative and competitive nature of their social networks. I look forward to returning to Uganda in January 2015 to start the first of two eight-month field seasons with the Kanyawara chimpanzees.

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