, Volume 50, Issue 3, pp 277–281 | Cite as

Two cases of mother–infant cannibalism in orangutans

  • David Fenwick DellatoreEmail author
  • Corri D. Waitt
  • Ivona Foitova
Short Communication


Observations of ape cannibalism have to this point been limited to chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) where it is associated with infanticide and consumption by unrelated individuals (Watts and Mitani, Primates 41(4):357–365, 2000). Here we report for the first time observations of two unrelated female Sumatran orangutans (Pongo abelii) cannibalizing the remains of their infants on different occasion, a behavior never before reported in any ape species. The two orangutans were wild-born rehabilitated individuals, and had been reintroduced to an area hosting a largely unregulated primate tourism industry and experienced restricted ranging conditions. Though it is possible that this is a strategy to regain energy and nutrients or a result of individual history, comparative data suggest that this is an aberrant behavior which may be linked to environmental stressors within the area.


Cannibalism Orangutan Reintroduction Stress Primate tourism 



We thank LIPI, the Indonesian Department of Science, for permitting this research to take place, Orangutan Health Project/MU 0021622416 the Orang Utan Republik Education Initiative LP Jenkins Memorial Fellowship for providing financial support, and Ian Singleton and an anonymous reviewer for critical discussion and reading of the manuscript. This research was conducted in part fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Primate Conservation at Oxford Brookes University.

Supplementary material

Supplementary material 1 (AVI 49.9 MB)


  1. Altmann J (1974) Observational study of behaviour: sampling methods. Behaviour 49(3):227–267PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Berman CM, Li J, Ogawa H, Ionica C, Yin H (2007) Primate tourism, range restriction and infant risk among Macaca thibetana at Mt Huangshan, China. Int J Primat 28:1123–1141CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bezerra BM, Souto ADS, Schiel N (2007) Infanticide and cannibalism in a free-ranging plurally breeding group of common marmosets (Callithrix Jacchus). Am J Primatol 69:945–952PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bygott JD (1972) Cannibalism among wild chimpanzees. Nature 238:410–411CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Dellatore DF (2009) Behavioural health of reintroduced orangutans at Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, Indonesia. In: Russell C, Russon A, Wallis J (ed) Primate-focused tourism. Am Soc Primatol (in press)Google Scholar
  6. Fairgrieve C (1995) Infanticide and infant eating in the blue monkey (Cercopithecus mitis stuhlmanni) in the Budongo Forest Reserve, Uganda. Folia Primatol 64:69–72PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Fossey D (1976) Transcript of the great apes. LSB Leakey Foundation News 6:4–5Google Scholar
  8. Fox LR (1975) Cannibalism in natural populations. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 6:87–106CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. FWI/GFW (2002) The state of the forest: Indonesia. Forest Watch Indonesia, WashingtonGoogle Scholar
  10. Galdikas BMF, Wood JW (1990) Birth spacing patterns in humans and apes. Am J Phys Anthropol 83(2):185–191PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Goodall J (1977) Infant killing and cannibalism in free-living chimpanzees. Folia Primatol 28:259–282PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Hrdy SB (1974) Male–male competition and infanticide among the langurs (Presbytis entellus) of Abu, Rajasthan. Folia Primatol 22:19–58PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. IUCN (2008) 2008 IUCN red list of threatened speciesGoogle Scholar
  14. Kuze N, Sipangkui S, Malim TP, Bernard H, Ambu LN, Kohshima S (2008) Reproductive parameters over a 37-year period of free-ranging female Borneo orangutans at Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. Primates 49:126–134PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Nishimura K, Isoda Y (2004) Evolution of cannibalism: referring to costs of cannibalism. J Theor Biol 226:291–300CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Palombit RA, Cheney DL, Fischer J, Johnson S, Rendall D, Seyfarth RM, Silk JB (2000) Male infanticide and defense of infants in chacma baboons. Infanticide by males and its implications. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 123–152Google Scholar
  17. Quammen D (2007) Deadly contact: how animals and humans exchange disease, October edn. Nat GeogrGoogle Scholar
  18. Rijksen HD, Meijaard E (1999) Our vanishing relative: the status of wild orangutans at the close of the twentieth century. Kluwer, DordrechtGoogle Scholar
  19. Rohwer S (1978) Parent cannibalism of offspring and egg raiding as a courtship strategy. Am Nat 112(984):429–440CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Russon AE (2002) Return of the native: cognition and site-specific expertise in orangutan rehabilitation. Int J Primatol 23(3):461–478CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Shopland JM, Altmann J (1987) Fatal intragroup kidnapping in yellow baboons. Am J Primatol 13:61–65CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Singleton I, Wich S, Husson S, Stephens S, Utami Atmoko S, Leighton M, Rosen N, Traylor-Holzer K, Lacy R, Byers O (2004) Orangutan population and habitat viability assessment: final report. IUCN/SSC Conservation Breeding Specialist Group, Apple ValleyGoogle Scholar
  23. Stoinski TS, Whiten A (2003) Social learning by orangutans (Pongo abelii and Pongo pygmaeus) in a simulated food-processing task. J Comp Psychol 117(3):272–282PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Tartabini A (1991) Mother–infant cannibalism in thick-tailed bushbabies (Galago crassicaudatus umbrosus). Primates 32(3):379–383CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Townsend SW, Slocombe KE, Emery Thompson M, Zuberbühler K (2007) Female-led infanticide in wild chimpanzees. Curr Biol 17:355–356CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Utami SS, Van Hooff J (1997) Meat-Eating by adult female Sumatran orangutans (Pongo abelii). Am J Primatol 43:159–165PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Wallis J, Lee DR (1999) Primate conservation: the prevention of disease transmission. Int J Primatol 20(6):803–826CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Watts DP, Mitani JC (2000) Infanticide and cannibalism by male chimpanzees at Ngogo, Kibale National Park, Uganda. Primates 41(4):357–365CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Xiang ZF, Grueter CC (2007) First direct evidence of infanticide and cannibalism in wild snub-nosed monkeys (Rhinopithecus bieti). Am J Primatol 69(3):249–254PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Japan Monkey Centre and Springer 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Fenwick Dellatore
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Corri D. Waitt
    • 3
  • Ivona Foitova
    • 4
  1. 1.School of Social Sciences and LawOxford Brookes UniversityOxfordUK
  2. 2.Sumatran Orangutan SocietyMedanIndonesia
  3. 3.Department of ZoologyOxford UniversityOxfordUK
  4. 4.Department of Botany and ZoologyMasaryk UniversityBrnoCzech Republic

Personalised recommendations