Cases of maternal cannibalism in wild bonobos (Pan paniscus) from two different field sites, Wamba and Kokolopori, Democratic Republic of the Congo


Maternal cannibalism, whereby a mother consumes her own offspring, occurs in various animal taxa and is commonly explained by nutritional stress or environmental pressures. It is rare in nonhuman primates and is considered an aberrant behavior only observed under high-stress conditions. It was therefore surprising when, in the first reported case of cannibalism in wild bonobos, a mother consumed part of the dead infant at LuiKotale. Here we report two more cases of maternal cannibalism by wild bonobos at two different study sites, Wamba and Kokolopori. The dead infants’ mothers participated in the cannibalism in both cases. At Kokolopori, although the mother did consume part of the carcass, it was held and shared by another dominant female. At Wamba, the mother was a dominant female within the community and was the primary consumer of the carcass. In both cases, cannibalism resembled other meat-eating events, with the dominant female controlling meat consumption. Infanticide was not observed in either case, but its occurrence could not be ruled out. Although rare, the occurrence of maternal cannibalism at three different study sites suggests that this may represent part of the behavioral repertoire of bonobos, rather than an aberrant behavior.

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We thank the Research Center for Ecology and Forestry and the Ministry of Scientific Research, DRC. We sincerely thank field assistants in Wamba and Kokolopori. This study was financially supported by the Global Leadership Training Program in Africa, provided by the United Nations University (to N.T.), as well as a Wenner-Gren Foundation’s Dissertation Fieldwork Grant and a University of St Andrews 600th Anniversary Scholarship (to K.E.G.). This article is in loving memory of Deborah Lynn Moore.

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Correspondence to Nahoko Tokuyama.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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N. Tokuyama and D. L. Moore contributed equally to this work.

D. L. Moore died on 22 March 2016.

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Tokuyama, N., Moore, D.L., Graham, K.E. et al. Cases of maternal cannibalism in wild bonobos (Pan paniscus) from two different field sites, Wamba and Kokolopori, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Primates 58, 7–12 (2017) doi:10.1007/s10329-016-0582-7

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  • Bonobo
  • Cannibalism
  • Meat eating
  • Pan paniscus
  • Thanatology