Monday, February 1, 2010

Bonobo cannibalises her own baby

Wild bonobo mother ape eats own infant in DR Congo

A wild bonobo has been seen cannibalising her own recently deceased two and a half-year-old infant.

Among apes, such behaviour is extremely rare, only being reported before among orangutans, and never by bonobos, our closest relative alongside chimps.

Though uncommon, the behaviour may not be aberrant, says the scientist who witnessed it.

But it does further challenge a widely perceived notion that bonobos are an especially "peaceful" ape species.

The discovery is reported in the American Journal of Primatology.

Bonobos (Pan paniscus) were once known as pygmy chimps, due to their similarities with the common chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes), from which they diverged in the past one million years.

Researchers have often emphasised the differences in behaviour between the two species; bonobos are reported as being less aggressive, hostile to one another, and living in societies dominated by females rather than high-ranking males that control communities of common chimps.

They were also regarded as less violent, being thought not to commit infanticide or hunt and eat other primate species.

Last year, however, that more peaceful image was shattered when scientists discovered that bonobos do kill and eat monkeys.

Now, primatologists Dr Andrew Fowler and Dr Gottfried Hohmann of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany have recorded an example of a bonobo ape consuming, along with other apes in her group, the body of her recently deceased infant.

Taking of the body

Dr Fowler and colleague Ms Caroline Deimel were conducting routine observations of a group of bonobos living in the forest at Lui Kotale in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Through the trees, they saw a female

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