Ultrasonographic monitoring of fetal development in unrestrained bonobos (Pan paniscus) at the Milwaukee County Zoo

Zoo Biol. 2011 May-Jun;30(3):241-53. doi: 10.1002/zoo.20304. Epub 2010 Jan 13.


The bonobo, Pan paniscus, is one of the most endangered primate species. In the context of the Bonobo Species Survival Plan(®), the Milwaukee County Zoo established a successful breeding group. Although the bonobo serves as a model species for human evolution, no prenatal growth curves are available. To develop growth graphs, the animals at the Milwaukee County Zoo were trained by positive reinforcement to allow for ultrasound exams without restraint. With this method, the well being of mother and fetus were maintained and ultrasound exams could be performed frequently. The ovulation date of the four animals in the study was determined exactly so that gestational age was known for each examination. Measurements of biparietal diameter (BPD), head circumference (HC), abdominal circumference (AC), and femur length (FL) were used to create growth curves. Prenatal growth of P. paniscus was compared with the data of humans and the common chimpanzee, P. troglodytes. With respect to cranial structures, such as BPD and HC, humans have significant acceleration of growth compared with P. paniscus and P. troglodytes. In P. paniscus, growth of AC was similar to HC throughout pregnancy, whereas in humans AC only reaches the level of HC close to term. Growth rate of FL was similar in humans and the two Pan species until near day 180 post-ovulation. After that, the Pan species FL growth slowed compared with human FL. The newly developed fetal growth curves of P. paniscus will assist in monitoring prenatal development and predicting birth dates of this highly endangered species.

MeSH terms

  • Abdomen / diagnostic imaging
  • Abdomen / embryology
  • Abdomen / growth & development
  • Animals
  • Animals, Zoo*
  • Female
  • Femur / diagnostic imaging
  • Femur / embryology
  • Femur / growth & development
  • Fetal Development*
  • Gestational Age
  • Head / diagnostic imaging
  • Head / embryology
  • Head / growth & development
  • Pan paniscus / physiology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Restraint, Physical*
  • Ultrasonography, Prenatal / methods
  • Ultrasonography, Prenatal / veterinary*
  • Wisconsin