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Maternal cannibalism in two populations of wild chimpanzees

Fedurek, P, Tkaczynski, PJ, Asiimwe, C, Hobaiter, C, Samuni, L, Lowe, AE, Dijrian, AG, Zuberbühler, K, Wittig, RM and Crockford, C (2019) Maternal cannibalism in two populations of wild chimpanzees. Primates, 61 (2). pp. 181-187. ISSN 0032-8332

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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.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: 0603 Evolutionary Biology, 0608 Zoology
Subjects: Q Science > QH Natural history > QH301 Biology
Q Science > QL Zoology
Divisions: Biological & Environmental Sciences (from Sep 19)
Publisher: Springer Science and Business Media LLC
Date Deposited: 11 Jan 2022 09:51
Last Modified: 11 Jan 2022 10:00
DOI or ID number: 10.1007/s10329-019-00765-6
URI: https://researchonline.ljmu.ac.uk/id/eprint/16005
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