Brief communication: Orphaned Male Chimpanzees die young even after weaning

Am J Phys Anthropol. 2014 Jan;153(1):139-43. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.22411. Epub 2013 Nov 1.


If a social-living animal has a long life span, permitting different generations to co-exist within a social group, as is the case in many primate species, it can be beneficial for a parent to continue to support its weaned offspring to increase the latter's survival and/or reproductive success. Chimpanzees have an even longer period of dependence on their mothers' milk than do humans, and consequently, offspring younger than 4.5-5 years old cannot survive if the mother dies. Most direct maternal investments, such as maternal transportation of infants and sharing of night shelters (beds or nests), end with nutritional weaning. Thus, it had been assumed that a mother's death was no longer critical to the survival of weaned offspring, in contrast to human children, who continue to depend on parental care long after weaning. However, in theory at least, maternal investment in a chimpanzee son after weaning could be beneficial because in chimpanzees' male-philopatric society, mother and son co-exist for a long time after the offspring's weaning. Using long-term demographic data for a wild chimpanzee population in the Mahale Mountains, Tanzania, we show the first empirical evidence that orphaned chimpanzee sons die younger than expected even if they lose their mothers after weaning. This suggests that long-lasting, but indirect, maternal investment in sons continues several years after weaning and is vital to the survival of the sons. The maternal influence on males in the male-philopatric societies of hominids may be greater than previously believed.

Keywords: Mahale; Pan troglodytes; male-philopatric society; offspring survival; parental care.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Wild / growth & development*
  • Animals, Wild / physiology*
  • Anthropology, Physical
  • Female
  • Male
  • Pan troglodytes / growth & development*
  • Pan troglodytes / physiology*
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Survival Analysis
  • Weaning