Cannibal chimpanzee seen eating a newly born chimp for the first time

A new study by Kyoto University researchers describes the first case of an adult male chimpanzee being observed snatching—then eating—a newly born member of the group. 

The team suggests that this kind of cannibalism may be the reason why females typically practice so-called “maternity leave,” where expecting mothers disappear to give birth and return weeks or months later. 

As the paper states, the behavior may function “as a possible counterstrategy of mother chimpanzees against the risk of infanticide soon after delivery.” 

The incident occurred in December 2014 when scientists saw a sudden and rare birth take place among a group of chimpanzees in Tanzania. 

The team then watched as a male member ran off with the newborn, later finding him consuming the baby’s remains. 

According to New Scientist, Tatyana Humle, a U.K. researcher who did not help write the study, has indicated that “the mother may not yet have had a chance to learn about ‘maternity leave’ if it was her first pregnancy.” 

“In fact, when the female chimp did subsequently have another baby, she disappeared for a month,” the site further explains.

While cannibalism is believed to be unusual among primates, chimps have been observed consuming infants of their own species in several prior instances, though none were newborns that had just been delivered.

There are downsides to the behavior, with Hitonaru Nishie, one of the paper’s authors, telling Newsweek, “Infanticide and cannibalism impose large reproductive costs on females and fathers of infants, so theoretically, effective counterstrategies should evolve to avoid such costs.”

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