, Volume 61, Issue 1, pp 29–34 | Cite as

Corpse-directed play parenting by a sterile adult female chimpanzee

  • Jacob D. NegreyEmail author
  • Kevin E. Langergraber
Special Feature: News and Perspectives Responses to Death and Dying: Primates and Other Mammals


The study of representational play in nonhuman primates, including chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), provides interspecific perspectives on human cognitive development and evolution. A notable form of representational play in chimpanzees is play parenting, wherein parental behavior is directed at inanimate objects. Though observed in captivity, unambiguous examples of play parenting by wild chimpanzees are rare. Here, we report two cases from Ngogo in Kibale National Park, Uganda, in which a wild adult female chimpanzee (P. t. schweinfurthii) directed parental behaviors at corpses. Both cases involved the same adult female chimpanzee, aged 20–21 years. The first case was observed on 5 March 2016, and the play object was the corpse of a bushbaby (Galago thomasi); in the second case, observed on 6 May 2017, the play object was a recently deceased chimpanzee infant postmortally stolen from the mother. The chimpanzee possessed the first and second play objects for approximately 5.5 h and 1.8 h, respectively. In both cases, she performed a variety of maternal behaviors, including co-nesting, grooming, and dorsally carrying the play objects. In contrast to previous observations of play parenting in captivity, the play parent was a presumably sterile adult female, well beyond the average age of first birth. These observations contribute to the expanding literature on chimpanzee interactions with the corpses of both conspecifics and heterospecifics.


Chimpanzee Representational play Object manipulation Play parenting Bushbaby 



We thank the Uganda Wildlife Authority, Uganda National Council for Science and Technology, and Makerere University for permission to work in Kibale National Park. For identifying Galago thomasi, we thank T. Struhsaker, L. Ambrose, T. Butynski, A. Perkin, J. Oates, and S. Bearder. For thoughtful edits to the manuscript, we thank S. Dunphy-Lelii, J. Anderson, and two reviewers. JDN’s fieldwork was supported by the National Science Foundation (Award #BCS-1613393), National Geographic Society (Award #9824-15), Nacey Maggioncalda Foundation, and Boston University. Fieldwork at Ngogo is supported by the National Institutes of Health Award 5R01AG049395 through the National Institute on Aging.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Ethical approval

This observational study was exempt from review by Boston University’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.

Supplementary material

Online Resource 1 Video clip showing Lucy carrying the bushbaby corpse in her mouth while traveling arboreally (MP4 10969 kb)

Online Resource 2 Video clip showing Lucy holding and grooming the bushbaby corpse. Female infant Amina expresses interest in the corpse (M4 V 303977 kb)

Online Resource 3 Video clip showing Lucy repeatedly positioning the bushbaby corpse on her back (M4 V 75089 kb)


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Copyright information

© Japan Monkey Centre and Springer Japan KK, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyBoston UniversityBostonUSA
  2. 2.School of Human Evolution and Social ChangeArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  3. 3.Institute of Human OriginsArizona State UniversityTempeUSA

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