Why chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) mothers are less gregarious than nonmothers and males: the infant safety hypothesis
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- Otali, E. & Gilchrist, J.S. Behav Ecol Sociobiol (2006) 59: 561. doi:10.1007/s00265-005-0081-0
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Socialization of young is an important component of maternal care in social mammals. It is therefore perplexing that female chimpanzees with dependent offspring spend more time alone than females without dependent offspring, and than males. We propose that chimpanzee mothers are less gregarious than nonmothers and males to reduce the risk of injury that aggressive males pose to their offspring. We predict that mothers will associate less with males, associate with fewer males, and reduce mother−infant proximity in the presence of males, and that these effects will reduce with increasing offspring age. We test whether the pattern of gregariousness and mother−offspring proximity support these predictions in the Kanyawara chimpanzee community in Uganda. The probability that a female was found in the presence of males was lower for mothers than nonmothers and increased with offspring age. The probability that a female was found with other females did not differ between mothers and nonmothers. Mother-to-offspring distance was higher when a mother was in an all-female group than in a mixed-sex group and increased with her offspring's age. Mother-to-offspring distance was greatest when there were relatively low numbers of males and relatively high numbers of females in a subgroup. We propose that mothers avoid grouping with males because of the vulnerability of their young, and that the presence of males in a subgroup increases a female's protectiveness of her young. We discuss the implications of our findings and the relevance of fission−fusion group formation to chimpanzee mothers.