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It’s voting day in the United States and people around the country are flocking to their polling places to make their voices heard. You might be surprised to find that humans are not the only animal that votes. In fact, political systems are quite common in the animal kingdom and many species are known for their collective approach to decision making. While non-human species typically don’t choose their leaders in the same way that humans do,  they do vote for other more routine decisions— like where to migrate, live, or hunt for food. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, there are several species that take part in the democratic tradition of collaborative thinking. Here are just a few:

  1. The honey bee: When a bee colony outgrows its hive, the group splits in two. The queen mother bee and half of her worker colony will leave to scout out a newer, larger location while the daughter queen and remaining colony members stay behind. After the scouts survey the surrounding areas for any suitable real estate, each individual returns to the hive and performs a dance for the rest of the members in the colony on behalf of their newfound locations. After several days,  the hive mates of the dancing bees decide whose moves are most persuasive and once a consensus emerges, the hive relocates based on popular vote.

  2. Tonkean macaques: (Macaca tonkeana), are a species of monkey that is found in the dense rainforests of Sulawesi, Indonesia. As fruit foragers, these monkeys use a “majority rules” voting method to decide in which direction they will travel to find the trees that bear the most fruit.  When an individual Tonkean macaque expresses an interest in moving the group, he or she takes a few steps in one direction, pauses, and waits to see if the rest of the group will follow. The other monkeys decide whether to support or challenge the monkey who has suggested a new route and when two or more monkeys want to change the route, group members vote by joining the monkey they believe is the most trustworthy candidate. Like most primates, Tonkean macaques maintain a strict social hierarchy, but all group members vote when it comes to these sorts of decisions. Despite the clear hierarchy, any individual monkey can initiate a move.

  3. African buffalo:  The large bovines are a distant relation to the domestic cows found here in the US, though this particular species is often found grazing within the swamps, forests, or grasslands of Africa. For these herbivores, grass makes up most of their diet and access to food is impacted by variables like the rate of regrowth, competition among herbivorous species, and soil quality.  African buffalo are herd animals that often make group decisions about when and where to move. After a period of time in the 1990’s, researchers studying wild African Buffalo likened the female stretching movements to a form of voting behavior. According to their findings, female buffalo indicate their travel preferences by standing up, staring in one direction and then lying back down.  At times when the buffalo differ greatly in their direction of gaze, the herd will split and graze in separate patches for the night.

  4. Chimpanzees and Bonobos:  As humans’ closest biological relatives, chimpanzees and bonobos are known to share a few human behavioral traits, and as it turns out, voting is one of them!   The power struggle between primates fighting for the role of alpha is loud and rowdy and while there are no formal elections in chimp society, no alpha male can rule without the support of his female constituents. In the chimp world, males must be accepted by the females who are often very picky. Without the support of his female group mates, the alpha male cannot mate and is likely to be overrun by a stronger more convincing male.

  5. African Wild Dogs: Researchers have found that among the African wild dog, sneezing is a technique used to convince a tired crowd of their peers to hunt. During what is known as a greeting rally, individual members of the pack begin sneezing to encourage the rest of their packmates to end the resting period and take up the hunt of prey. If a dominant wild dog wishes to rouse the troops, it can do so with just a few sneezes. But, if a less dominant dog wants to hunt, it may have to sneeze over ten times to get the pack to move.

Whether you’re a primate, bovine, a canine, or honey bee, living in a democracy has its perks. As a voter, you have the opportunity to make your voice (or sneezes) heard and to motivate action among your leadership and peer groups. No matter where you fall on the political scale, the Havasi Wilderness Foundation wishes you a happy election day!  We hope you continue to use your voice to fight for what matters to you!

African buffalo at Kruger National Park, South Africa. Wikiemedia: Source: Derek Keats from Johannesburg, South Africa

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