Scientists in a new study have confirmed that like humans, gorillas are territorial in their behavior. For the first time this new study demonstrated that groups of gorillas claim “ownership” of specific regions. Additionally, when traveling near their neighbors’ territory they are more likely to avoid contact with these outside groups in order to avoid conflict.
The study involved monitoring the movements of groups of western lowland gorillas. Because Western lowland gorillas live in dense forests and are difficult to track on foot, the scientists followed eight groups of gorillas using a network of cameras placed at 36 feeding “hotspots” across a 60km2 area of the Odzala-Kokoua National Park in the Republic of Congo.
It was previously thought that gorillas were non-territorial, due to the overlap of home ranges and their tolerance of other groups. It was previously thought that gorillas were non-territorial, due to the overlap of home ranges and their tolerance of other groups.
“Our findings indicate that there is an understanding among gorillas of ‘ownership’ of areas and the location of neighboring groups restricts their movement.
“Gorillas don’t impose hard boundaries like chimpanzees. Instead, gorilla groups may have regions of priority or even exclusive use close to the center of their home range, which could feasibly be defended by physical aggression.
“At the same time groups can overlap and even peacefully co-exist in other regions of their ranges. The flexible system of defending and sharing space implies the presence of a complex social structure in gorillas.”
-Dr. Robin Morrison, researcher
The results suggest that groups may show territoriality, defending core regions of their home ranges against neighbors, and mirror patterns common across human evolution, with core areas of resident dominance and larger zones of mutual tolerance. This implies western gorillas may be a key system for understanding how humans have evolved the capacity for extreme territorial-based violence and warfare, whilst also engaging in the strong affiliative inter-group relationships necessary for large-scale cooperation.
Journal Reference: Morrison, R.E., et al. Western gorilla space use suggests territoriality, Scientific Reports, Vol. 10, Article number: 3692 (2020), DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-60504-6