Biological Contributions to the Maternal Behavior of the Great Apes

  • Ronald D. Nadler
Part of the Genesis of Behavior book series (GOBE, volume 4)


My research on biological contributions to maternal behavior of the great apes, while not recognized as such at the time, was initiated early in 1972. I was studying the sexual behavior of gorillas under laboratory conditions and learned that one of the females I had tested was pregnant. Because I saw this as an opportunity to extend my studies of mother—infant relations to a third species of great ape, research on chimpanzees and orangutans already being under way, I conducted a literature search to determine what was known about this subject in gorillas. I learned that little was known about mother—infant relations in gorillas, in part because there had been relatively few gorillas born in captivity in comparison to chimpanzees and orangutans, and because most of the infants that were born were separated from their mothers within the first week of life (Kirchshofer, 1970). In fact, of the first 29 live-born gorillas in captivity, only 1 was reared by its mother beyond a year of age. Even more ominous for my planned research were reports that several of the infants that had initially been allowed to remain with their mothers had been neglected or abused, and a few had actually been killed by the mother. Kirchshofer (1970) proposed that the inadequate and abusive maternal behavior of the gorillas was related to their early rearing experience in captivity. Essentially, all the gorillas in captivity had been separated from their own mothers within a year or two, as a result of being captured. Most had been reared at zoos with one or more peers, but no adult conspecifics. Kirchshofer (1970) concluded that the absence of adult conspecifics on which to model their behavior and a lack of experience with infants accounted for the failure of captive gorilla mothers to learn the appropriate care of infants during their formative years, prior to the time that they delivered their own offspring.


Maternal Behavior Female Chimpanzee Leader Male Adult Conspecific Primiparous Female 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ronald D. Nadler
    • 1
  1. 1.Yerkes Regional Primate Research CenterEmory UniversityAtlantaUSA

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