For the first time ever, a female bonobo has been seen giving birth in the wild at the Luikotale Bonobo Project field site in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This observation yielded new insight into the social habits of female bonobos during childbirth, which could assist in conservation efforts and care for captive bonobos. The research was conducted by Pamela Heidi Douglas of Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, and her paper was published in Primates.
Bonobos are small chimpanzees that only live in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Though bonobos are some of the closest living relatives to humans, political unrest in the country has made it difficult for researchers to study them in their natural habitat. This makes Luikotale quite special and an invaluable place for primatologists.
Wild apes are typically leery of human spectators, but Douglas had followed the group for over a year and a half as part of her Ph.D. thesis. During this time, the group became more comfortable around her, allowing her to get close enough to routinely collect urine samples. It was through these samples that Douglas was able to perform a pregnancy test, learning about Luna’s condition not long after conception.
One morning, Douglas observed Luna giving birth in a nest up in a tree, not down on solid ground. Luna was accompanied by two female companions who waited nearby during the birthing process and shared in eating the placenta after the baby was born.
There were many aspects about this event that provided scientists with new insight or clarified previous suspicions. Primarily, it was expected that these primates give birth under the cover of night, so the fact that the delivery took place in the morning was unexpected. The fact that Luna allowed two spectators to be so close to her and eat part of the nutritionally-dense placenta was also somewhat surprising.
It was traditionally believed that most primates gave birth alone, though there have been doubts over the last few years. In this study, Douglas witnessed a total of 39 births from 31 primate species, and 34 of them were accompanied by others. In captivity, birthing bonobos are typically removed from the group when it is time to give birth. Understanding that childbirth is a social process might encourage zookeepers to allow the mothers to stay with the group in order to get the support they would receive in the wild.
After the delivery, Luna sat still in the tree and allowed Douglas to get a good, long look at the newborn. The new mother did not appear to be skittish around her human audience, which likely is a testament to how comfortable she felt around Douglas.
[Via: BBC Earth]