International Journal of Primatology

, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp 191–216 | Cite as

Adoption in Anthropoid primates

  • Bernard Thierry
  • James R. Anderson
Review Article


Reports of adoption in nonhuman primates are reviewed, including spontaneous adoptions of orphans or infants whose mothers have been removed from the group, temporary adoptions of offspring of sick mothers, adoptions arising out of kidnapping, and adoptions resulting from manipulations involving presenting infants to adults. Adoptive behavioral patterns resemble nonadoptive alloparental patterns. The literature indicates certain trends: adult females, especially if lactating or in the late stages of pregnancy, are most likely to adopt neonates. Older infants are more likely to be adopted by juveniles or by adult males. Weaned or weanable orphans that get adopted have reasonable chances of survival, while orphans still reliant on milk are unlikely to survive. An infant adopted by an adult female will develop socially as a member of the female’s matriline. Adoptions involving closely related individuals are consistent with kin-selection theory. Others appear to reflect “reproductive error” arising out of an attraction to young infants. Yet other cases might reflect reciprocal altruism. Continued documentation of cases of adoption will yield more data on costs and benefits and on whether rates and forms of adoption, such as alloparental behavior, vary systematically with social systems.

Key words

primates adoption alloparental behavior orphans attachment 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bernard Thierry
    • 1
  • James R. Anderson
    • 1
  1. 1.Laboratoire de PsychophysiologieUniversité Louis PasteurStrasbourgFrance

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