My first impression of http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Za4uT1ob8qE is that the baboons were being altruistic and benevolent, but is this guess proven or affirmed by science? I sense there's more to this video.

User dekar6279 comments:

They didn't save the impala, they just defended their territory. Moreover, the baboons didn't eat the impala because surrely they were not hungry, animals don't kill if they don't have to eat or to defend something.

I'd love to be enlightened by more videos. Some other examples:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=77pK7D7A6I4, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nJzYhxpKYuM,

Yet the hippo appears to capitulate here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4LyVnzVVECA


2 Answers 2


is this guess proven or affirmed by science?

It is a debated topic.

Such altruistic behaviors (toward non-kin) are extremely rare evolutionarily, with some theorists even proposing that they are uniquely human [1].

Experimental evidence indicates that human altruism is a powerful force and is unique in the animal world. [...] Current gene-based evolutionary theories cannot explain important patterns of human altruism, pointing towards the importance of both theories of cultural evolution as well as gene-culture co-evolution [4].

Yet, similar behavior was observed in chimpanzees:

In addition, we demonstrate similar though less robust skills and motivations in three young chimpanzees [1].

Altruism has evolved under some conditions:

We show that at least one of the four following conditions needs to be fulfilled: direct benefits to the focal individual performing a cooperative act; direct or indirect information allowing a better than random guess about whether a given individual will behave cooperatively in repeated reciprocal interactions; preferential interactions between related individuals; and genetic correlation between genes coding for altruism and phenotypic traits that can be identified. When one or more of these conditions are met, altruism or cooperation can evolve if the cost-to-benefit ratio of altruistic and cooperative acts is greater than a threshold value [2].

Altruism is related to kin selection:

In 1964, Hamilton formalized the idea of kin selection to explain the evolution of altruistic behaviours. Since then, numerous examples from a diverse array of taxa have shown that seemingly altruistic actions towards close relatives are a common phenomenon. Although many species use kin recognition to direct altruistic behaviours preferentially towards relatives, this important aspect of social biology is less well understood theoretically [3].


  1. Warneken F, Tomasello M. Altruistic helping in human infants and young chimpanzees. Science. 2006 Mar 3;311(5765):1301-3. doi: 10.1126/science.1121448. PubMed PMID: 16513986.
  2. Lehmann L, Keller L. The evolution of cooperation and altruism--a general framework and a classification of models. J. Evol. Biol. 2006 Sep;19(5):1365-76. doi: 10.1111/j.1420-9101.2006.01119.x. PubMed PMID: 16910958.
  3. Agrawal AF. Kin recognition and the evolution of altruism. Proc. Biol. Sci. 2001 May 22;268(1471):1099-104. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2001.1611. PubMed PMID: 11375095.
  4. Fehr E, Fischbacher U. The nature of human altruism. Nature. 2003 Oct 23;425(6960):785-91. doi: 10.1038/nature02043. PubMed PMID: 14574401.

I would argue that the behaviors you saw in these are not altruistic.

Baboons will aggressively defend their territories against predators. For example, watch this baboon chase a female lion.


The baboon eventually loses but only when the lion gets help. I'd say the baboons were just chasing away the cheetah and the hyenas as a matter of self defense. The antelope just got lucky.

The same applies for the elephant. It doesn't really approach the buffalo and lion. The lion runs off soon after the elephant arrives in the area. Elephants will also aggressively chase off predators likelions. The lions are right to be afraid.


Same applies for the hippos. They can be aggressive towards crocodiles.


As for the hippo "saving" the wildebeest, we always have to be careful about interpretation. Just because it looks like the hippo was trying to save the life of the wildebeest does not mean that it was the hippo was actually doing. For example, it may have simply been trying to remove the wildebeest from its territory. At times, the hippo puts its mouth around the wildebeest. Was it considering taking a bite? Was it trying to prod the wildebeest? Was it trying to play with the wildebeest?

It's very difficult to demonstrate that any of the behaviors in the videos were displays of altruism.


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