Rape happens in animals too

Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

In male humans, rape is hardly ever about sexual attraction. It is usually about finding someone physically weaker and more vulnerable and venting one’s anger against the world on them. That is why husbands mistreat their wives, teenage boys rape children, a Nirbhaya and a Jisha lose their lives horrifically, a girl is raped in Brazil by 33 men after being drugged. It might explain the tragic fact that NO country—however egalitarian, aware and wealthy —has been able to eliminate rape and violence against women. Sweden has more rapes than India. How can one explain that? The elimination of rape may only lie ultimately in the elimination of violence itself.


Male animals of some species do it too. But in this case it is not for the sake of violence. The purpose of life, in every species, is to beget life. Animals don’t have a shred of malice. So, violence on the female is either because she is in heat and he is so overcome by the pheromone smell that he cannot help himself, or because he is in a race with other males of his species to see that he continues his genetic legacy.

Female animals are discriminating. The male has to be good looking (the redder the Mandrill’s face, the likelier he is to get a mate), he has to be a good provider – birds have to woo their mates by building and decorating nests, getting food for the females, even dancing to show how virile they are - and he has to be a good defender and protector. Some females spread their bets by allowing themselves to be mated several times so that the offspring have different fathers.

But in some species the female is not allowed the luxury of choice.  Either by sheer force or by cunning, she is physically violated. One foul villain is the water strider. These insects walk on water. The female has a genital shield to protect herself from a marauding male. To get around that, the male forcibly mounts the female. If she protests and refuses to cooperate by removing her shield, he threatens her by striking the water with his legs. She knows this will immediately attract fish and other predators. She is underneath so she will get eaten while he will escape. Once she agrees to let him in, he will stop creating vibrations in the water. So, for her it is a choice of two evils and she gives in to the first to save her life.

Sea otters need a lot of food every day, approximately 25% of their body weight. When food is short, the male will sometimes snatch a random baby and hold it to ransom till the mother pays in food to the male.  They also rape baby seals. Male otters will find a juvenile harbour seal and mount it, as if he were mating with a female otter, which means holding the female’s head under water for a long time. This kills some female otters and certainly all the seal pups. Some abandon the pup when it dies. Others return to the corpse later and continue to violate it.  Male sea lions fight for a beach filled with females, but then this leaves lots of males on the side-lines with no females, they become extremely frustrated because they had to travel far to that beach for a chance at sex. They will often take it out on youngsters that stray from the group, beating them up and then raping them, usually killing them.

Bottlenose dolphin males form gangs, corner a female and then take turns mating with her. If there are no females around, they take a young male instead. Competing groups of dolphins may raid rival territories for their females. Studies in the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, on bottlenose dolphins in Western Australia showed that male dolphins formed alliances to guard the females of their group against rape – perhaps not so much chivalry and gallantry as restricting sexual access to their own “possessions”.

Professor Barbara Smuts of the University of Michigan and a long-time observer of social relations in primates such as hamadryas baboons, chimpanzees and orangutans describes, in Discover magazine, the masculine coercion of the female.

“…Sometimes, as I saw in Gombe (a wildlife reserve in Tanzania), a male chimpanzee even attacks an oestrous female days before he tries to mate with her. Goodall (Jane, a pioneering ethologist) thinks that a male uses such aggression to train a female to fear him so that she will be more likely to surrender to his subsequent sexual advances. Similarly, male hamadryas baboons, who form small harems by kidnapping child brides, maintain a tight rein over their females through threats and intimidation. If, when another male is nearby, a hamadryas female strays even a few feet from her mate, he shoots her a threatening stare and raises his brows. She usually responds by rushing to his side; if not, he bites the back of her neck. The neck bite is ritualized—the male does not actually sink his razor-sharp canines into her flesh—but the threat of injury is clear. By repeating this behaviour hundreds of times, the male lays claim to particular female months even years before mating with them. When a female comes into oestrus, she solicits sex only from her harem master, and other males rarely challenge his sexual rights to her.”

Would this be called rape – child marriage is definitely non-consensual sex. In some groups, when females form defensive alliances of their own, there is a marked drop in male violence.

Male scorpion flies prefer to provide their potential mates with food gifts of dead insects. But if there are absolutely none, the male rapes the female. Male scorpion flies have a so-called notal organ, a clamp that serves to keep unwilling females in a mating position. The males that resort to rape are usually smaller and less symmetric than males who woo the females with gifts. However, experiments reveal that all males will rape in an environment in which nuptial gifts are scarce. Which means, that scorpion flies possess the brain to choose both gifts and rape as mating tactics. Rape yields very little reproductive success and the females fight so vigorously, twisting their bodies in order to avoid contact so it’s basically making the best of a bad job. In sagebrush and camel crickets, rape is the work of the ultimate loser on the edge of society, small and deformed, he can spread his genes in no other way.

The white fronted bee-eater is a small, colourful bird who lives in colonies in Africa. Males and females form stable pairs who nest together year after year. But rape in the community is common, and if a female leaves her nest alone she will be chased by 1-12 male birds who, if they succeed in pinning her to the ground, jump on her at once and try to mate with her.  In fact, when a female leaves the nest she whistles loudly, so that if her husband is nearby he can escort her.  No bachelors form part of the rape posse- all married males on the prowl.

The lesser snowgoose also lives in colonies, but her state is much worse. Married males routinely attack nesting females. A female left alone for an instant will probably be assaulted, and is probably on her own because her husband has gone off to rape someone else. One attempt every few days is the norm.

The little brown bat is even more sexually deviant. When most bats are hibernating through the winter, hanging together in vast colonies, this bat works its way through raping male and female alike as they sleep.

Some species of male ducks and geese chase and have forcible sex with females. Mallard duck’s males and females pair off normally, but the males that don't manage to get mates form gangs and use their combined strength to go after lone females. It's known to biologists as a 'rape flight'. Often, a gang of three or four of them attacks a female duck, two holding her down while one enters her, sometimes resulting in her injury or death.

They are among the 3% of bird species whose males have phalluses big enough to insert into the vaginas of females, whether or not she consents. The cockscrew-like male sex organ can be as long as 16 inches. However researchers have established that females of these species have evolved complex genitalia to thwart unwelcome pregnancies.

Some vaginas have spiral channels that impede sex by twisting in the opposite direction to that of the male phallus. Others have as many as eight cul-de-sac pouches en route, that could prevent fertilisation by capturing unwelcome sperm. These features are only found in the species renowned for forced sex. All others have simple male and female genitalia. Control over reproduction alternates between the sexes. If the male develops a longer, more elaborate phallus to force copulation, females wrest back control by developing features to thwart males who rape by developing side chambers to hold sperm that is ejected later. The success of this design is proven by the fact that as many as one in three duck matings are rapes, but in nine out of ten of these the offending sperm is eliminated, so 97 percent of all duck offspring are the result of the choice of the mother.

If rape, like evil, could be isolated in the mind and manipulated by medical or psychiatric intervention, it would be easy to exorcise it. But it is immensely more difficult when it comes from a view that women are an essentially different type of species and therefore need a special kind of treatment – whether promoting gender sensitivity or using them as objects.


Pl. add: To join the animal welfare movement contact gandhim@nic.in, www.peopleforanimalsindia.org


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