The meat-scrap hypothesis: Small quantities of meat may promote cooperative hunting in wild chimpanzees Pan troglodytes

Claudio Tennie, Ian C. Gilby, Roger Mundry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


A common explanation for hunting in groups is that doing so yields a greater per capita caloric benefit than hunting solitarily. This is logical for social carnivores, which rely exclusively on meat for energy, but arguably not for omnivores, which obtain calories from either plant or animal matter. The common chimpanzee, Pan troglodytes, is one of the few true omnivores that regularly hunts in groups. Studies to date have yielded conflicting data regarding the payoffs of group hunting in chimpanzees. Here, we interpret chimpanzee hunting patterns using a new approach. In contrast to the classical assumption that hunting with others maximizes per capita caloric intake, we propose that group hunting is favored because it maximizes an individual's likelihood of obtaining important micronutrients that may be found in small quantities of meat. We describe a mathematical model demonstrating that group hunting may evolve when individuals can obtain micronutrients more frequently by hunting in groups than by hunting solitarily, provided that group size is below a certain threshold. Twenty five years of data from Gombe National Park, Tanzania are consistent with this prediction. We propose that our 'meat-scrap' hypothesis is a unifying approach that may explain group hunting by chimpanzees and other social omnivores.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)421-431
Number of pages11
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes)
  • Cooperation
  • Diet
  • Hunting
  • Macronutrients
  • Micronutrients

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


Dive into the research topics of 'The meat-scrap hypothesis: Small quantities of meat may promote cooperative hunting in wild chimpanzees Pan troglodytes'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this