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Maternal cannibalism in two populations of wild chimpanzees

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Author(s)

Pawel Fedurek, Patrick Tkaczynski, Caroline Asiimwe, Catherine Hobaiter, Liran Samuni, Adriana E. Lowe, Appolinaire Gnahe Dijrian, Klaus Zuberbühler, Roman M. Wittig, Catherine Crockford

School/Research organisations

Abstract

Maternal cannibalism has been reported in several animal taxa, prompting speculations that the behavior may be part of an evolved strategy. In chimpanzees, however, maternal cannibalism has been conspicuously absent, despite high levels of infant mortality and reports of non-maternal cannibalism. The typical response of chimpanzee mothers is to abandon their deceased infant, sometimes after prolonged periods of carrying and grooming the corpse. Here, we report two anomalous observations of maternal cannibalism in communities of wild chimpanzees in Uganda and Ivory Coast and discuss the evolutionary implications. Both infants likely died under different circumstances; one apparently as a result of premature birth, the other possibly as a result of infanticide. In both cases, the mothers consumed parts of the corpse and participated in meat sharing with other group members. Neither female presented any apparent signs of ill health before or after the events. We concluded that, in both cases, cannibalizing the infant was unlikely due to health-related issues by the mothers. We discuss these observations against a background of chimpanzee mothers consistently refraining from maternal cannibalism, despite ample opportunities and nutritional advantages. We conclude that maternal cannibalism is extremely rare in this primate, likely due to early and strong mother–offspring bond formation, which may have been profoundly disrupted in the current cases.

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Details

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages7
JournalPrimates
VolumeFirst Online
Early online date5 Oct 2019
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 5 Oct 2019

    Research areas

  • Cannibalism, Chimpanzee, Maternal cannibalism, Parental investment

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