Researchers recently witnessed an ape birth up close and in doing so, they discovered something quite unusual that calls the previously assumed uniqueness of mankind into question.
The animal kingdom is full of spectacular births and we are constantly seeing more and more proof of this. Be it with moose in France, elephants in Africa, huskies in a car or labradors in an airport, people always seem to be fascinated by this emotional circle of life.
A spectacular chimpanzee birth
But one birth, in particular, is calling our previous assumptions into question. Do dwarf chimpanzees have more human-like qualities than we previously thought? Researchers at the University of Pisa have observed several occasions of Bonobo females supporting other females when they are giving birth. So far, this phenomenon has only been witnessed in Bonobos in the wild once, but the latest studies were conducted with monkeys that live in animal parks in France and Holland.
In contrast to other types of primates, these females do not retreat into privacy to give birth to their offspring, as scientists have observed in common chimpanzees, but instead, Bonobo females have been witnessed supporting other females when they were in labour.
They keep the males away that smell the amniotic fluid, try to grab the baby as it is born and even try to keep away the flies that buzz around the expectant mother. Scientists have now observed this behaviour on three separate occasions.
Do chimpanzees have midwives?
Elisa Demuru was one of the researchers involved in the birth of Bonobo babies and explains that some females who step in as midwives for other primates have previously seen other females giving birth. Therefore, they already know how the process works and how to make it as pleasant and easy as possible for the mother. The expert explained to New Scientist:
We believe they want to show the female that they are there to support and protect her in the phase in which she’s the most vulnerable.
Has this behaviour been observed in other primates?
For a long time, scientists have considered the act of supporting mothers in childbirth a very human characteristic. But these recent observations prove quite the contrary. According to Elisa Demuru, the presence of ‘midwives' at birth could come from our most recent ancestors. However, this phenomenon has never been observed in common chimpanzees, who are also close relatives of humans.
However, researchers at the Hayashibara Great Ape Research Institute in Okayama, Japan, have also made an amazing discovery. They have observed that female chimpanzees give birth to their offspring in a similar way to humans as they also emerge from the birth canal facing away from the mother. Overall however, very little is known about births of other types of primates, since they normally take place at night. Nevertheless, similar behaviour has been observed in golden monkeys in China.
Bonobos are social beings
Bonobos acting as midwives may sound quite surprising, but this can be explained by the fact that they are actually quite sociable creatures.
Bonobo females develop strong bonds with each other and this particular primate species is also known for its highly developed social life. Various observations have proven that they are also capable of sharing food and communicating with other species.