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Infant carrying by a wild chimpanzee father at Bulindi, Uganda


Although infanticide by wild adult male chimpanzees has been reported from multiple sites, affiliative infant carrying by males is rare. We observed infant carrying by an alpha male chimpanzee at Bulindi (Uganda) on two consecutive mornings and collected faecal samples from the newborn infant female, her mother and all candidate fathers to determine whether the alpha male was the infant’s father using a likelihood-based method of paternity assignment. In contrast to previous observations of male care of orphans, in this case the mother was present during observations. Further, unlike reports of male aggression towards infants, the infant was reunited with her mother on the third morning, and survived. Neither mother nor infant presented visible injuries. The alpha male never directed aggression towards the infant. Rather, he displayed attentive behaviours, for example by holding the infant to his chest, supporting her while moving, grooming her, and ‘cuddling’ and ‘rocking’ her. Paternity results revealed with a high degree of certainty that the alpha male was the infant’s father. There are several alternative explanations for the male’s behaviour, but this unusual case also highlights the need for further studies to determine under what circumstances adult male chimpanzees can recognise their own offspring.

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Research approval and permission to export samples for genetic analyses was given by the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology, the Uganda Wildlife Authority, and the President’s Office. This research was supported in part by the Max Planck Society. We thank Moses Ssemahunge for assistance in the field. The manuscript was improved by helpful comments from Michio Nakamura and an anonymous reviewer.

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Correspondence to Marie Cibot.

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Online Resource 1 Clip showing SL grooming the newborn infant’s head. The infant (MA) is supported in SL’s lap and appears calm (MOV 66924 kb)

Online Resource 2 Clip showing SL sitting on a branch holding the infant MA with his right arm; he “cuddles” and “rocks” the infant close to his chest (MOV 91942 kb)

Online Resource 3 Clip showing the infant MA, still held by SL, appearing relatively active, moving her arms and looking around. SL then makes a day nest and lies on it with the infant (MOV 209725 kb)

Online Resource 1 Clip showing SL grooming the newborn infant’s head. The infant (MA) is supported in SL’s lap and appears calm (MOV 66924 kb)

Online Resource 2 Clip showing SL sitting on a branch holding the infant MA with his right arm; he “cuddles” and “rocks” the infant close to his chest (MOV 91942 kb)

Online Resource 3 Clip showing the infant MA, still held by SL, appearing relatively active, moving her arms and looking around. SL then makes a day nest and lies on it with the infant (MOV 209725 kb)

Online Resource 4 Full descriptions of the behavioural observations between the 16th and 18th May 2016 (DOCX 19 kb)

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Cibot, M., McCarthy, M.S., Lester, J.D. et al. Infant carrying by a wild chimpanzee father at Bulindi, Uganda. Primates 60, 333–338 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10329-019-00726-z

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  • Infant carrying
  • Paternity
  • Pan troglodytes
  • Bulindi
  • Uganda