Great Ape Societies. W. C. McGrew, L. F. Marchant, and T. Nishida, eds. 328 pp. Cambridge University Press, 1996. $64.95 cloth; $24.95 paper.
Apes have always fascinated a wide spectrum of people, and their popularity increases daily. Great Ape Societies stands at the top of the list of recent collections of scientific papers on pongid apes. It is a heavy-duty sampler of pongid research that has been conducted since The Great Apes (D. A. Hamburg and E. R. McCown, eds., Benjamin/Cummings, 1979), which was also based on an exclusive conference supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research.
During the past two decades there has been a denouement of dramatized pioneering field research by persons who command more media attention than their subjects, and pongidology is now in an intense phase of Kuhnian puzzle-solving. At last we are obtaining vast quantities of data on enough populations and subspecies to make fine, more controlled intraspecific and interspecific comparisons among bonobos, chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans—enough to inspire detailed scenarios of early hominid evolution. Intensive long-range studies of captive social groups of chimpanzees and bonobos complement results of field studies, and there is highly productive dialogue and collaboration between experimental and field scientists. The Wenner-Gren conferences, sagely coordinated by Lita Osmundsen and Sydel Silverman, have had much to do with this epistomological advance.
The 21 chapters in Great Ape Societies are sandwiched between an iterative conservationist plea by pongidology's grandmother, Jane Goodall, and a sometimes annoyingly inscrutable afterword by Junichiro Itani.
Orangutans are the focus of a single chapter—the first—in which we learn that their social system remains nearly as enigmatic and controversial as it was when it was discussed in three chapters of The Great Apes. In the new text Van Schaik and Van Hooff can only reiterate that "We suspect that the orangutan's social life is a lot more complex than is suggested by its solitary habits." Bonobos, the three subspecies of gorillas and the three subspecies of chimpanzees are all represented in the subsequent 10 chapters of Great Ape Societies, which contrasts with the heavy emphasis placed on eastern (especially Gombe) chimpanzees and mountain gorillas in the earlier book.
Bonobos are notable for strong, nonrelative interfemale affiliations, food sharing, mother-adult son bonding, prolonged estrus and Kama Sutra sex. Although many details of their socioecology remain to be discovered, they no longer merit the epithets "last ape," "fourth great ape" or "forgotten ape."
The four chapters on gorillas evidence that mountain, lowland and Grauer's subspecies have basically the same social pattern of females and young cohesively foraging with a silverbacked male leader, despite the fact that they eat a wide variety of diets. Lowland and Grauer's gorillas live sympatrically and relatively peacefully with chimpanzees, even though they eat many of the same plants.
Communities of Pan troglodytes verus, Pan troglodytes troglodytes, and Pan troglodytes schweinfurthi exhibit a basic social pattern of male dominance and fission-fusion of foraging and nesting parties, whose compositions can be quite variable. Chimpanzee communities differ in the extent to which males associate with females and with one another. The groups may also vary widely in their patterns of hunting mammalian prey and in their use of tools to crack nuts and to procure insects, honey and drinking water.
The next four chapters, which investigate aspects of ape mentality, feature only chimpanzees and bonobos, and they include discussions on conflict as negotiation, on naturalistic symbolic communication of bonobos, on reciprocity and interchange, and on the level at which chimpanzees recognize relationships among objects and symbols.
Orangutans are slighted in three of the four topical comparisons that follow, including those on positional behavior, vocal behavior and laterality of hand use. Fruth and Hohmann's synthesis of data on nesting behavior is the notable exception. Scenarists of hominid evolution would be wise to pay more attention to arboreal lodging behavior in nonhuman primates because the reliance on trees was part of the hominid adaptive complex during much of our ancestry.
Senior authorship continues to be exclusively European, North American and Japanese, but it is refreshing to see coauthors, albeit all male, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire), the Republic of the Congo (Congo Brazzaville) and Uganda. A major challenge for global conservational primatology in the new millennium is to have more studies authored principally by scientists from the countries that are graced with apes and other nonhuman primates.—Russell H. Tuttle, Anthropology, The University of Chicago