Humans are not the only species that have assistance during birth, scientists have learned.
When our closest living relative, the bonobo, gives birth, other females gather around to help and protect the mother.
Before now, there has only been one scientific account of a wild bonobo giving birth; there, these ‘midwives’ stayed close to the mother.
But now, researchers have also observed the phenomenon on numerous occasions in captivity.
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Bonobos are humans’ closest living relative. Females have been spotted acting as ‘midwives’ during birth, showing that labor assistance is not a trait unique to humans. File photo
Elisa Demuru from the University of Pisa and her colleagues witnessed three captive bonobos giving birth at primate parks in France and the Netherlands.
Unlike chimpanzees, the mother bonobos do not try and isolate themselves.
he other apes stayed near her, sniffing birth fluid, attempting to grab the baby as it came out, and one even swatted flies away, according to New Scientist.
Demuru told the publication that some of the females had given birth before, suggesting they knew what was going on.
The apes were protective towards the laboring mother, keeping male bonobos and humans away from her.
‘We believe they want to show the female that they are there to support and protect her in the phase in which she’s most vulnerable,’ said Demuru.
In bonobo social groups, the females usually aren’t related. However, the bonds they form allow them to be dominant over the males they associate with.
‘It makes sense because they’re highly social animals. Isolation is not part of their behavioral repertoire,’ said Demuru, explaining why the apes may make giving birth a social event.
Previous research had suggest that assistance during birth was unique to humans. The observations of bonobos challenges this idea.
Demuru states that birth assistance happens in bonobos and humans because both live in social groups with strongly bonded females.
Unlike chimpanzees, the mother bonobos do not try and isolate themselves. The other apes stayed near her, sniffing birth fluid, attempting to grab the baby as it came out, and one even swatted flies away. File photo
She also claims that midwifery may have been present in our last common ancestor and lost by chimpanzees, also a close relative of humans.
However, it may have evolved separately in the human and bonobo lineages.
Not a lot is known about birth in other primates because it usually happens at night. However, it has been reported in black snub-nosed monkeys, Sichuan snub-nosed monkeys and white-headed langurs.
Previous studies have shown that bonobos are highly sociable and intelligent animals. The apes have been spotted sharing food with each other, even across communities.
The animals are also able to communicate across species with chimpanzees, a surprising find given that the two ape cousins separated from a common ancestor between one and two million years ago.