This one, little Lobo, has been giving his “big” sister Leakey grief since conception! If you remember, Lia is one of our two moms that conceived very quickly after her previous baby. As a consequence, Leakey was forced onto the crash-weaning diet just after her second birthday. She was not happy about it, nor has she been quiet about her displeasure, but now she seems to be managing on adult foods just fine!
Lia, who definitely deserves a Super-chimp-mom award, has been carrying both infants wherever she goes since Lobo was born in July. Lobo clings to her belly while Leakey mounts and rides Lia's back. Luckily for Lia, Lobo has a ton of siblings to entertain him when Lia needs a rest.
While I was in the States between seasons, I worried quite a bit about Lia's two infants. Last season Leakey was clearly suffering from her mother's split energies, this season I worried I might return to find both- or really all three of them- in bad shape. The good news is that everyone seems to be coping. Lobo in particular seems to be taking it well- but it is still early in his young life and certainly neither baby is “home free.” I imagine that things will become a bit harder on all three individuals before they ease up, but I'm hopeful...cautiously optimistic even!
And finally, our newest teenie tiny little Wanji, who was born on the second day of this season. Wanji’s name is a Lugandan term that roughly equates to something between “What’s up?” and “Huh?” He was named after a prank that the field assistants pulled on us, tricking us into thinking that Wangari had returned from a month of maternity leave carrying little Wanji along in October. Our field assistants love to play tricks on us- they were quite amused over both our excitement and our disappointment at the reveal. We all got a good laugh too, but it was such a let down! If I hadn’t been there to see Wanji with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have let myself believe the guys until they found him and showed him to me for fear of a repeat disappointment. But, as you may have read in my previous blog, there was nothing disappointing about that day in the forest!
Wanji brings the 2016 baby count to six- a pretty incredible feat when you consider how many females were not eligible to contribute. And, to add a bit of icing to that cake, five of them are boys which rounds out our study population quite nicely. Now I’m just waiting on one more female to give the last of my original study babies a little sibling before the end of data collection in August…
....come on, Leona!
pluh-sen-toe-PHAY-gee: postpartum consumption of the mammalian placenta, or afterbirth
A brief overview of what I’ve been able to find about placentophagy:
While maternal placentophagy is relatively common across mammals, evidence of other, non-mother, placental consumption seems pretty scant. I have not been able to find a previously documented case of non-mother group members consuming placenta in chimps. However, as so many other things, I’m sure that if I’ve seen it, someone else must have. I happily, and eagerly, invite anyone and everyone to send me any evidence that you may have- whether from personal experience or someone else’s documented account.
Witnessing a live birth is extremely rare among wild chimpanzees (but check out this article from Nature about the similarities between human and chimpanzee birthing processes). Because of this, the data is scant, but I’ve gathered what I can about placentophagy at other sites.
Researchers at Bossou, Guinea recently reported a their second case of researchers witnessing a live birth (Fujisawa et al. 2016). In that instance, the mother consumed the placenta and, although others gathered round and inspected the baby, she did not share it with any other individuals. I learned through personal communication that there was a case of one individual female at Gombe carrying her placenta around for days after parturition until it shriveled up and turned black. While several other individuals approached her during this time and were clearly very interested in the placenta, no one other than the mother ever ate any part of it.
And then there's Kanyawara. Luckily, I've been surrounded by field assistants and PI's over the last few weeks and have been able to ask a million questions about their previous experiences here. I confirmed one report of a female burying her placenta after birth. In a second case, a different female ate her own placenta after birth. However, in most cases that we've had an observer in the right place at the right time, the placenta was never seen. This certainly does not preclude placentophagy as mothers generally build large day nests and give birth in those nests, only emerging hours after parturition to rejoin the group (Gombe: Goodall 1980, Kanyawara: unpublished data). We cannot enter such nests to check for the presence/absence of the placenta so it is impossible to comment on whether they were consumed. Further, I have seen older siblings (including this particular placentophile, Gola) entering birthing nests on multiple occasions both while mothers and newborns are still in them, and after they have left. This may provide those siblings with the opportunity to access and consume their mother’s placentas but, again, is very difficult to confirm or refute due to nesting conditions.
So again: calling all field biologists! Send more information! You can even use the comments section of this blog post to add your experience or any cases that you’ve read about or even just to name some people that I should ask about it! I am really interested to know if what we saw was truly “unique” or just under-reported!
1. Fujisawa, M., Hockings, K. J., Soumah, A. G., & Matsuzawa, T. (2016). Placentophagy in wild chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes verus) at Bossou, Guinea. Primates, 57(2), 175-180.
2. Goodall, J., & Athumani, J. (1980). An observed birth in a free-living chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) in Gombe National Park, Tanzania. Primates, 21(4), 545-549.
Yes, it might seem unbelievable that our chimps moms here have managed to add new characters to the Kanyawara cast between July and December, especially given our incredible baby luck these last two seasons, but they continue to amaze me!!
To start, I’d like to introduce you to Delta. This adolescent female first appeared in our community about a year ago, but it can be so hard to tell if females will stick around that I hesitated to really feature her until now.
When I first met Delta she was ranging with Outamba & Co. and I kept transposing her with Omusisa. The adolescent daughter of Outamba, Omusisa is younger than Delta by a few years and slightly smaller, but they both have long-limbs and mottled faces. And of course a pair of young females cycling at the same time can be difficult if we don’t know the shape or average size of either of their estrous swellings. By now the difference between them is clear as day. The easiest diagnostic is Delta’s absolutely fantastic, saucer-like ears. Isn’t she gorgeous?
Delta arrived relatively comfortable with people, but she's not too sure about cameras...
Delta is an extremely expressive chimp and she’s quite sassy too. In the first week of this season she and Omusisa were both in estrous again, courting and competing for males. Early one morning, Eslom joined the party to the usual fanfare and both females rushed toward him, reaching him at the same time. Suddenly, Delta turned to Omusisa and slapped her square in the face sending her rival screaming and winning the opportunity to mate with Eslom. It takes a certain amount of guts for the new girl to compete like that with the daughter of such a high ranking female. Between that and her ears I think it’s pretty easy to see why I love her so much. I can’t wait to see what she’s like as a new mom!
Mucuso is named for a fig tree planted in the 90's by Chimp House that *finally* produced a big enough crop of fruits to attract the chimps in 2016. He was born about a week before I left the forest in July so I couldn’t begin to include him as a focal last season, but I started following him immediately when I returned in December. As he nears his half-birthday a rambunctious little personality is already emerging. Luckily for mom, Mucuso’s sister, Mango, keeps him busy with hours of gentle wrestling and tickling! Despite his high energy levels (or maybe because of them), Mucuso seems to have a relaxing effect on his mother, Michelle, who has become more and more comfortable with human observers watching her offspring. I must admit that I’m predisposed to like Mucuso as his mother is named for a hero of mine, First Lady Michelle Obama. And his big ears fit him so well! Apparently I have a thing for big chimpanzee ears… I like to think this pair would do both the First Lady and her husband proud!
I’ve got two more introductions for you next week, so stay tuned, guys!
This is Mucuso's "Eager Anticipation" face... he just can't wait for Part 2!
This blog is a forum share my personal experiences as a field researcher and traveler.