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Prolonged transport and cannibalism of mummified infant remains by a Tonkean macaque mother

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Observations of animals’ responses to dying or dead companions raise questions about their awareness of states of helplessness or death of other individuals. In this context, we report the case of a female Tonkean macaque (Macaca tonkeana) that transported the body of her dead infant for 25 days and cannibalized its mummified parts. The mother appeared agitated in the first 2 days after the birth. She then took care of her infant’s corpse, which progressively dried and became mummified. In a third stage, the mother continued to transport the corpse as it started disintegrating, and she gnawed and consumed some parts of the remains. Our observations suggest that mummification of the body favored persistence of maternal behaviors by preserving the body’s shape. The female gradually proceeded from strong attachment to the infant’s body to decreased attachment, then finally full abandonment of the remains.

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We thank the managers and keepers of the Parco Faunistico di Piano dell’Abatino of Rieti for their technical support. We are grateful to Andrea Sanna, Rocio Cano Martinez and Juan Franco Guzman for their assistance.

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Correspondence to Arianna De Marco.

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De Marco, A., Cozzolino, R. & Thierry, B. Prolonged transport and cannibalism of mummified infant remains by a Tonkean macaque mother. Primates 59, 55–59 (2018).

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