Following up on the theme of the last post, I’d like to share with you some things I learned recently from a book called Men and Apes, a 1966 bestseller by Desmond Morris (author of The Naked Ape) and his wife Ramona. In truth, though loaded with facts and excellent pictures, this is a bit of a dry read. The most compelling parts have to do with the sex lives of the different apes and monkeys, which vary quite a bit. The descriptions are alternately instructive, curious, horrifying, and downright steamy. Here are a few excerpts organized by species:
When a female comes into sexual condition she develops consort relationships with the dominant males. She never consorts with more than one at a time, keeping in close contact with the “male of the moment” for as long as two to three days. There are plenty of females to go round and there is little cause for squabbling. Indeed, in some of the very large colonies, certain females are able to sidle off into the bachelor fringes and set up secret consortships there with young males, without being caught by one of the dominant males.
When a female is in heat “she actively solicits the male, but there is no regular pattern to the order of males she solicits, and she may be mounted by the most dominant males at any time during oestrous…. When a dominant male is copulating with an adult female they are frequently surrounded by a group of adult and subadult males, and/or large male juveniles who heckle the pair. This heckling may take the form of dashing in circles around them, or moving in close to them and actually slapping the mounting male.” The male is apparently good natured about the whole thing and seldom gives more than a mild threat.
During 112 weeks of intensive observation of wild chimpanzees, Jane Goodall witnessed dominance disputes on only 72 occasions. Typically these were connected with minor bickerings over special food objects. As far as matings were concerned, it is sufficient to note that she once observed seven males, including one adolescent, copulate in succession with one particular female, without the slightest sign of aggression between them.
On “monkey hill” at the London Zoo in the late twenties [the hamadryas colony] consisted of thirty-nine adult males and only nine females. One of the males possessed two females, seven possessed one female each and the other thirty-one were bachelors. It says something for the flexibility of baboon behavior that there was not an immediate and total bloodbath. But such flexibility as there was soon reached its limits and terrible fighting broke out. In vicious disputes over the females the latter were often killed by the very males that were making such desperate attempts to win them. Zuckerman describes the end of one of the sexual battles in the following words: “The fight lasted for several days and after the female was killed, twenty-four hours passed before the body could be removed from the Hill. During this interval fights continued to rage around the body, which changed hands several times. Its owners carried it around by the waist, groomed it, examined its ano-genital area, and often copulated with it.”
George Schaller describes an elaborate copulation that can hardly have escaped the attention of the dominant male in the group. The final stages are recorded as follows: “After about ten minutes the copulatory sound (ö-ö-ö-ö-ö-ö) becomes harsher and harder, and the female emits a short piercing scream. The male has her clasped now by the armpits and he is nearly covering her back. They have come to rest against a tree-trunk. The male thrusts rapidly and a hoarse, trembling sound escapes his parted and protruding lips, interrupted only by sharp intakes of breath. The sound becomes nearly a roar — and suddenly he sits back. The female lies motionless for 10 seconds, then walks slowly uphill. The male sits a minute and then he too goes.” The mating began, in this instance, at a distance of only ten feet from the boss gorilla of the group and yet Schaller notes that “During the whole procedure the dominant male lay on his knoll and the copulating pair was in plain sight, but he paid no obvious attention.”