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Thanatology in the northern muriqui (Brachyteles hypoxanthus)

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Abstract

Primate thanatology, or the study of primate responses to dying and death, has become increasingly relevant in recent years. However, the number of reports remains small and the quality of published records is highly variable. Here, we extend the literature on comparative thanatology with observations on a population of the northern muriqui (Brachyteles hypoxanthus). We compiled all seven cases of muriqui responses to dead, dying, or abandoned infants observed by trained researchers of the Muriqui Project of Caratinga between 1998 and 2020. Four different adult females were observed carrying their dead offspring (n = 4) and one of these females was also observed carrying her dead grand-offspring (n = 1). Five of the seven cases involved dead newborns, one involved a newborn abandoned by its mother on the forest floor, and one involved a 1.6-year-old infant that was visibly ill and died after its mother left it on the ground. Dead newborns were carried for 1–3 days, and all cases occurred during the dry season months. No other age-sex classes were observed to interact with the dead or dying immatures. Our observations are consistent with hypotheses concerning the predominance of dead-infant carrying in other primates, and with the effects of climate on rates of corpse disintegration. They also show the value of long-term studies for obtaining and understanding anecdotal records of rare behavior.

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Fig. 1a–e

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  • 11 June 2022

    The article has been updated to add the ORCID ID of co-corresponding author.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank the Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq) of the Brazilian government, and Ramiro Abdalla of Preserve Muriqui for permission to conduct this research at the RPPN Feliciano Miguel Abdala. We thank all of the people and funding agencies that have supported this fieldwork over the years, as listed in: https://strierlab.anthropology.wisc.edu/muriqui-project-of-caratinga-acknowledgements/. We especially thank the staff of the reserve, including Vera, Roberto, Jairo, Antonio Bragança and everyone who lives in the community; Conservation International and Preserve Muriqui for administrative and logistical support to the project; and all of the researchers from Projeto Muriqui de Caratinga who responded to our initial email inquiry for descriptions of muriqui behavior toward dead or dying conspecifics: Samara Luiza, Renan Cézar, Valéria Cristina, Jefferson Cordeiro, Jeronimo Sanguinetti, Anamélia de Souza Jesus, Thiago Cavalcante, Fabricio Fernandes, Ana Biatriz Siqueira, Mariane Kaizer, Vagner de Souza, and Luiz G. Dias. We also wish to thank the editor and reviewers for their helpful and insightful comments, which greatly improved this manuscript.

Funding

Support for fieldwork component of this long-term project was to KBS from the following sources: National Science Foundation, BNS 8305322, BCS 8619442, BCS 8958298, BCS 9414129, BCS 0621788, BCS 0921013; National Geographic Society; Liz Claiborne Art Ortenberg Foundation; Fulbright Foundation; Sigma Xi Grants-in-Aid; Henry M. Jackson Foundation, grant no. 213; World Wildlife Fund; The Leakey Foundation; Chicago Zoological Society; Lincoln Park Zoo Neotropic Fund; Center for Research on Endangered Species; Margot Marsh Biodiversity Foundation; Conservation International; Primate Action Fund; Muriqui Instituto de Biodiversidade; Graduate School of the University of Wisconsin-Madison; University of Wisconsin-Madison; a Hilldale Professorship; a Vilas Research Professorship; Microsoft Corporation Employee Salesforce Matching Gifts Program; and Re:Wild (previously Global Wildlife Conservation). Support during the preparation of this manuscript to RFF was from Rufford Foundation (Grant Number: 196461) and FACEPE (Fundação de Amparo à Ciência e Tecnologia de Pernambuco, # IBPG-1236-2.05/16).

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Correspondence to Robério Freire Filho or Karen B. Strier.

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The article has been updated to add the ORCID ID of co-corresponding author.

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Freire Filho, R., Inforzato, I., Tabacow, F.P. et al. Thanatology in the northern muriqui (Brachyteles hypoxanthus). Primates 63, 335–342 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10329-022-00991-5

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Keywords

  • Grief
  • Maternal behavior
  • Maternal kinship
  • Brazil