Excerpt from A Primate's Memoir by Robert M. Sapolsky, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Primate's Memoir

A Neuroscientist's Unconventional Life Among the Baboons

by Robert M. Sapolsky

A Primate's Memoir by Robert M. Sapolsky
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2001, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2002, 304 pages

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The next morning, Solomon sat next to Devorah, who was not in estrus that week, not sexually receptive. Obadiah had just taken his first few steps; Rachel was sitting near Job; Miriam, two months pregnant, was grooming her youngest kid, who was throwing a tantrum. A quiet, small-town morning. Uriah appeared and stood a dozen yards from Solomon, staring, town no longer big enough for the two of them. And Solomon, like the script specified, looking neither left nor right, walked toward Uriah, turned around, and groveled, belly in the grass, rear end stuck in the air, a male gesture of submission. The transition had occurred.

During that day, Uriah sat and groomed with Leah, Naomi, some of the other females. Solomon, without provocation, attacked Benjamin, mauled Job repeatedly, broke up the play of Daniel and David, chased the terrified Ruth and Obadiah. I would come to recognize this as the typical behavior of a male baboon with problems who wants someone else to pay for them. And Solomon did something else, a behavior I would see only once afterward, again on the day that an alpha male lost his primacy. Debates rage among animal behaviorists as to the appropriateness of using emotionally laden human terms to describe animal behaviors. Debates as to whether ants really have "castes" and make "slaves," whether chimps carry out "wars." One group says the terms are a convenient shorthand for lengthier descriptions. One group says they are the same thing as human examples of these behaviors. Another group says that they are very different, and that by saying that all sorts of species take "slaves," for example, one is subtly saying that it is a natural, widespread phenomenon. My bias is to agree somewhat with this final group. Nevertheless, Solomon did something that day that I think merits the emotion-laden term that is typically used to describe a human pathology. Solomon chased Devorah, seized her near an acacia tree, and raped her. By this I mean that she had not presented to him, was not behaviorally receptive or physiologically fertile at the time, that she ran like hell, tried to fight him off, and screamed in pain when he entered her. And bled. So ended the reign of Solomon.

Copyright © 2001 by Robert M. Sapolsky.

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