Reading about past times or current events can lead us to think that conflicts are something inherent to the human condition, while others may argue that war is not something natural to us: that it is not an inevitable product of the human condition.
What is clear is that we are not the only species that embarks on wars and produces authentic atrocities to other groups.
From the study of other species we can learn how our conflicts relate to those of other animals.
Aggressive confrontations between groups are a constant among the species that form cooperative societies: from the warlike incursions of ants and termites, to the wars of humans.
There is a species of mongoose in Africa that exhibits such brutal and organized violence that it has drawn the attention of scientists.
It is the striped mongoose (
), an animal the size of a cat, but with the appearance of a weasel: with an elongated snout that allows it to feed on the insects, rodents and lizards that inhabit the African savannahs.
Unlike most mongoose species, which are solitary, the banded mongoose lives in groups of between eight and seventy individuals that guard their territory.
Mongoose cubs gather around an adult in the group (with GPS collar)BETH PRESTON/JOURNAL OF ANIMAL ECOLOGY
They are groups of matriarchal organization, with multiple dominant females accompanied by two or three dominant males.
These are the only ones that mate with all the females in the course of a week.
All the cubs are born the same night, in a synchronized way, some females give birth prematurely to coincide with the rest, since giving birth out of time has disastrous consequences: the cubs are killed by the dominant females.
It is important that they are all born at the same time, because the young are mixed and confused, it does not matter whose they are, they are all collectively nursed by all the females in the group.
At four weeks they will begin to come out of the burrows accompanied by an escort, who is not their mother either, who will take care of them and teach them how to find and handle food.
Mongooses in groups are very close and spend a lot of time sleeping together, grooming themselves and scent marking.BETH PRESTON/JOURNAL OF ANIMAL ECOLOGY
Their social structure is so peculiar that it makes banded mongooses a good model in which to study the evolution of altruism and other cooperative behaviors, but also their propensity for violence.
It is believed that confrontations are a fundamental force that favors, at the same time, the evolution of altruism within the group, as well as hostility towards others.
Contests between groups of mongooses are not very different from those between humans in their motivations and forms.
Fighting usually begins when one group invades the territory of another, in search of resources that are scarce in theirs.
When this happens, the two colonies face each other in an organized manner, as if they were two Roman legions in
formation , or two rugby teams executing a
The clash between the two is chaotic: a cloud of dust and deafening screams as one tries to break through the other's defenses for minutes that can last for an hour or more, until one finally backs down and withdraws.
Bees learn to dance by watching their elders dance
These wars between neighbors are not rare, a group can be involved in up to four conflicts a month.
The causes that give rise to so much fighting are various, including some very
, such as maintaining the status of a territory, conserving or appropriating resources, and even genocide.
Many of the confrontations led by males target the pups of the rival group, so much so that an estimated 20% of pup deaths take place during wars, with female pups being the most likely to die in these circumstances. .
Eliminating the females of the future is a strategy to end the rival group.
Over time, the colony will become extinct or so weakened that the other will be able to expand without problems over its territory.
Other times it is the dominant females who lead the attacks, taking advantage of the chaos of the battle to mate with a male from the other group.
It is estimated that one in five offspring is conceived in this way, a fact that allows the levels of inbreeding in the group to be reduced by incorporating genes from others, albeit at a high cost for the individuals involved in the confrontation.
Groups of mongooses arranged in "battle line" formation before the chaotic fighting begins. Banded Mongoose Research Project
Those who study them hope that by doing so, we can learn something about the evolution of our own warlike tendencies.
Although debate continues, some theoretical models suggest that the costs of intergroup conflicts may drive the evolution of cooperative behavior.
Human history itself demonstrates that external threats can lead to greater cohesion within a society.
Studying the conflicts of mongooses, chimpanzees or lions allows us to discover what is essential in our own conflicts, to understand that superior cognition or complex language is not necessary to engage in wars like those of humans.
Our intelligence and cultural evolution make our actions potentially very different from those of other species, something that must always be taken into account.
But studying collective violence in other animal societies allows us to appreciate that human societies are not the only ones that embark on wars under the leadership of individuals who obtain benefits from them, but avoid their costs.
In mongooses it has been seen that the decoupling of those who lead the combats, with the costs of the same, give rise to the destructive nature of the conflict being amplified.
In this, at least, we do not seem to be so different.
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