Monkey feeding her baby

Golden snub-nosed monkeys nurse each other’s babies

New research has found that golden snub nosed monkeys, seen here in China’s Qinling Mountains, will nurse other females’ young.

Photograph by Cyril Ruoso, Minden Pictures

Please be respectful of copyright. Unauthorized use is prohibited.

Being a mom is hard enough, but imagine mothering someone else’s kids, too. That’s the norm for golden snub-nosed monkeys, according to a new study in the journal Science Advances. Scientists found that over a five-year period, more than 87 percent of golden snub-nosed monkey infants were nursed by females other than their mothers—a phenomenon called allonursing.

While allonursing has been documented in a number of rodent and carnivore species, as well as some primates, it is not common. This is the first evidence of allonursing in an Old World monkey.

Monkey Mothering

Allonursing on a regular basis has only been reported in about 40 mammal species, and researchers weren’t expecting to see this behavior when they first started observing the behavior of groups of the monkeys in central China’s Shennongjia National Nature Reserve in 2012.

Zuofu Xiang, a professor of wildlife conservation at Central South University of Forestry and Technology in China and one of the new study’s authors, says it wasn’t until they noticed a female simultaneously suckling two infants that the idea even occurred to them.

“When we started tracking newborns, we were surprised to find that allonursing was common during the first three months of an infant’s life,” says Xiang.

Xiang and his colleagues found that over the course of five birth seasons, more than 87 percent of infants suckled from females that were not their mothers.

Researchers in China had been studying these monkeys for several years when they noticed a mother feeding two babies at once. That's when they realized allonursing was a common practice among the species.

Photograph by Zuofu Xiang

Please be respectful of copyright. Unauthorized use is prohibited.

Relatedness was an important factor, with grandmothers or aunts tending to provide the extra nourishment. Reciprocity also seemed to play a role, as most mothers nursed another female’s baby if that female had previously nursed their own.

Got Milk?

One reason this finding was surprising is that milk is a costly form of investment in one’s offspring. Why would it benefit a mother to make that investment in another’s child?

“Lactation is one of the most energetically expensive things a mammal can do, short of pregnancy itself—female mammals literally create a new substance from scratch using resources available in their own body, at huge cost,” says Kirsty MacLeod, a behavioral and evolutionary ecologist at Lund University, Sweden, who was not involved in this study.

“Allonursing is most often found where females live in very closely related groups, where nursing your nephew or niece still benefits you because they share your genes, or in species that gives birth to multiple young at a time, so providing some milk to an extra baby isn’t that costly,” says MacLeod.

“Primates don’t often fall into either category. Although there are many primates that live in social groups, the majority of species do not nurse each other’s young, so this report of allonursing in golden snub-nosed monkeys is significant and interesting.”

It Takes a Village

So why are golden snub-nosed monkey mamas so generous with their milk?

Related females co-reside and socialize within larger groups, and they all give birth within a short time period each year. These factors are conducive to allonursing, but they don’t make these monkeys unique.

What may set them apart is their habitat. Golden snub-nosed monkeys live in high-elevation temperate forests with long, cold winters (nighttime temperatures commonly drop below freezing) and strong seasonal changes in food availability. Allonursing could enhance infant survivorship in the face of these environmental challenges.

Allonursing may give infants a survival advantage during winters, the researchers posit.

Photograph by Zuofu Xiang

Please be respectful of copyright. Unauthorized use is prohibited.

In the study, Xiang and his colleagues recorded six instances of infants who did not receive nursing from another female. Four of them died during the winter (before weaning), whereas only six of the 40 infants who were allonursed died (and this includes two cases of male infanticide that occurred when a new male took over a group).

Allonursing could stack the odds in an infant’s favor by providing extra nutrients for accelerating growth and development. It may also provide a more diverse set of immune compounds to infants, improving their resistance to various diseases and parasites.

The behavior may benefit mothers, too. By taking some of the energetic burden off of mothers and spreading it around among related females, mothers may be able to reinvest energy and resources into future offspring.

Xiang says that it is unlikely that any single set of conditions can explain why allonursing has evolved in disparate species.

“While allonursing has benefits to infants and mothers, and variables like availability of female kin and environmental harshness may make it more likely in some species, there are primates with a similar constellation of socioecological factors that do not exhibit allonursing,” he says.

It seems that for some mammals, it may take a village to raise the young. Sharing nursing duties with your relatives just makes sense for golden snub-nosed monkeys.

Follow Mary Bates on Twitter and Facebook.

Read This Next

Why does this man create armor for cats and mice?

  • History & Culture

Why does this man create armor for cats and mice?

Artist Jeff de Boer has designed and crafted tiny museum-quality armor for decades. How did he find his calling? “It all started with a mouse,” he says.

To see Malaysia’s elusive wildlife, take a walk in the trees

  • Travel

To see Malaysia’s elusive wildlife, take a walk in the trees

Steel structures and swinging bridges built high above the rain forest floor give tourists a non-intrusive way to spot the country’s tapirs, tigers, and notoriously shy primates.

The polar vortex, explained

  • Environment

The polar vortex, explained

The swirling mass of cold air that hovers above the North Pole is sometimes responsible for episodes of extreme cold weather in North America.

Subscriber Exclusive Content

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.

S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

See More

Monkey Snatches and Kills Month-Old Baby as He Was Being Breastfed


By Robyn White

World Animal attacks Monkeys Tanzania Baby

A monkey snatched and killed a month-old baby as he was being breastfed in Tanzania.

Shayima Said had been feeding her child outside when the troop of monkeys invaded her house in the Mwamgongo village in Kigoma, on June 18, Tanzania news outlet The Citizen reported. The monkeys snatched the child from Said.

The mother screamed for help, James Manyama, Kigoma Regional Police Commander, told The Citizen.

"Villagers rushed to her house to assist her in getting her child—identified as Luhaiba Said—back from the troop of monkeys," Manyama said.

A stock photo shows a chimpanzee baring its teeth. It is not clear what types of monkeys snatched the child. The village borders a nature reserve known for its chimpanzees. USO/Getty

One of the monkeys held the child in its hands and villagers rushed to help. They used force to free the child.

"When the villagers came it was too late because the baby was already in the hands of monkeys," Manyama told the news outlet .

When they eventually got the child back from the monkeys, he was injured on the neck and head.

The baby was rushed to a nearby hospital where he died from his injuries, The Citizen reported.

It is not clear what species of monkey snatched the child. Mwamgongo village, located in the western part of Tanzania, shares the border with Gombe National Park, a nature reserve well known for its chimpanzee families.

Newsweek has contacted Kigoma Regional Police for a comment.

The smallest of all the Tanzania's national parks, Gombe is full of steep slopes and river valleys, which is also home to other species of monkeys including beachcomber olive baboons, red colobus, red-tailed monkeys, blue monkeys and vervet monkeys.

Manyama told The Citizen that as the village shares a border with Gombe National Park "incidents of animals invading villages are not uncommon."

Incidents of monkeys snatching children however, while not unheard of, remain rare.

In January, a group of monkeys killed a 2-month-old in Baghpat, India, by drowning him in a water tank.

According to local news reports, the child was sleeping next to his grandmother in a room next to a terrace, when the monkeys entered through the open door and dragged him away.

Jessica Mayhew, associate professor and director of the primate behavior and ecology program at Central Washington University, told Newsweek at the time, that this type of behavior is "uncommon," and knowing the context of such an incident is critical.

There have also been reports recently that monkeys in Eastern Ethiopia are attacking children in local communities. Save the Children, the charity that flagged the issue, put this down to an ongoing drought in the country.

During extreme weather events, monkeys will become more desperate for water, forcing them to venture into neighborhoods and snatch resources away from people.

Request Reprint & Licensing, Submit Correction or view Editorial Guidelines

How a female chimpanzee cared for her sick baby

  • Melissa Hogenboom
  • BBC Earth

Image copyright, Getty

Photo caption,

Chimpanzees are usually very protective of their young

For the first time in history, scientists have seen a female chimpanzee caring for a baby with developmental problems. Unfortunately, the touching care of the mother did not save the baby, although it extended her life, the correspondent writes BBC Earth.

So far, this case is considered the only one of its kind.

Scientists were able to observe how a female chimpanzee takes care of her cub in the wild, struck by extremely serious illnesses.

A juvenile chimpanzee was discovered in the Mahali Mountains National Park in western Tanzania*, home to the largest population of these primates in the country.

The monkey, designated by scientists as XT11, lived for 23 months. She was the sixth child of her 36-year-old mother, Christina. nine0011

In terms of her physical condition, XT11 was similar to a captive chimpanzee with Down syndrome-like symptoms.

Short life

It seems that XT11 was able to live as long as she lived thanks to the care of her mother, without which she would have been doomed to a quick death.

Image copyright Michio Nakamura

Image caption

Sick XT11 calf (left) and calf of the same age (right)

abnormal behavior, disabilities and [specific] needs of XT11." nine0011

According to their observations, the young monkey did not eat plant foods and remained completely dependent on mother's milk for much longer than the period when chimpanzees usually wean from the breast.

"We hypothesize that her limited diet was due to her lack of motor ability and that she was malnourished due to her milk diet, at least in later life," the authors of the article noted.

In addition to limited physical abilities, XT11 had an abdominal hernia, a damaged spine, and an extra inactive finger on his left hand. nine0011

Her eyes were empty, her mouth often remained half open, she could not sit without support.

Image copyright Michio Nakamura

Photo caption

Baby had a growth on her belly

She could hold on to her mother's fur, but her hind limbs weren't strong enough to grab onto her mother, so she hung almost all the time.

Caring for a disabled cub forced Christina to change her habits.

She stopped catching ants in the trees because she always carried baby XT11 in her arms. nine0011

"The mother of the crippled calf was probably more stressed than other mothers because she had to provide intensive care for her calf for longer," write the authors.

The evolution of instinct

From time to time, 11-year-old sister XT11 helped her mother to take care of the patient: she played with the baby and carried her in her arms.

"Sometimes it has happened that a mother would suddenly hand over a baby to her eldest daughter. This is quite unusual behavior for a mother," says Michio Nakamura, co-author of the report prepared by experts at the University of Kyoto, Japan. nine0011

Image copyright, Michio Nakamura

Image caption,

The older sister also often took care of the sick

"While the crippled cub was in the care of the older sister, the mother could climb a tree and eat fruit," Nakamura told BBC Earth .

But when the elder sister had children of her own, this extra help stopped.

Other relatives of XT11 were not allowed to care for her or wear her, which is also quite unusual. nine0011

Apparently, the mother understood that if the sick baby was in their hands, it might not be safe for her, because they might not understand her needs.

The cause of XT11's death remains unclear, possibly due to her limited diet.

While it is not uncommon for primates to be born with physical disabilities, there have only been two cases in the past where disabled cubs have been observed.

Image copyright Takuya Matsumoto

Image caption

The sick baby's eyes were often blank and the mouth half open.

Skip the Podcast and continue reading.


What was that?

We quickly, simply and clearly explain what happened, why it's important and what's next.


The End of the Story Podcast

And both times it happened in captivity. Mothers either neglected them or abandoned such cubs, and people came to the aid of such babies.

One of the invalids died at the age of 17 months, the other survived to two years, but only thanks to repeated blood transfusions. nine0011

The fact that such care among our closest relatives has been observed in the wild points to a long evolutionary history of such animal behavior.

Perhaps our ancestors, common to humans and chimpanzees, were able to demonstrate the same level of concern for problematic offspring.

"Our observations of how an older sister cared for a disabled cub shed light on the evolution of non-maternal care for crippled individuals," says Michio Nakamura. nine0011

Translator's note

*Chimpanzees in the Mahali Mountains National Park are being studied by primatologists from the University of Kyoto, Japan. The project was started in 1961. In 1965, Japanese specialists founded the first scientific camp for observing chimpanzees in their natural habitat.

Read the original of this article in English is available on the website BBC Earth.

how the apes cope with feeding difficulties

Animal rights activists are concerned about the violation of the rights of baby chimpanzees to maternal care and breastfeeding. Not so long ago, a baby chimpanzee named Nori was born at the North Carolina Zoo. At the Carolina Zoo, it was the first time a chimpanzee has bred in captivity in 12 years. The public's enthusiasm for the birth of a pretty furry baby was soon overshadowed by the sad news: the mother refused to take care of her, the cub had to be taken away from the mother and started to be fed artificially. The outraged public branded negligent zoologists on the pages of the zoo in social networks. They were accused of cruelty to animals, because it was known in advance that Maki, Nori's mother, had not had the opportunity to watch her relatives feed their babies for more than 10 years. Asked how could she start caring for offspring if the higher primates do not have innate patterns of maternal behavior ? In order for the baby not to die, the future monkey mother must regularly observe the actions of other lactating females in the flock! “Many who have had a lactating cat or dog or guinea pig might think that natural instinct would just as easily force primates to feed. But it's not like that!" - zoologists explain, - "Natural instinct, of course, is present in monkeys, but without visual training, it, unfortunately, cannot be fully realized." So in this matter, alas, more primitive animals have an advantage over more complex ones. nine0011

What is the solution to save the happy childhood of our smaller brothers born in captivity offer animal rights activists? As an example of a possible "information support" of animals in captivity, they cite the well-known story of the gorilla Malaika from the zoo in Toledo (Ohio) . When Malaika, who grew up in captivity, had her first cub, she treated him with great sympathy, but clearly had no idea what to do with him. For example, the monkey gently brought the baby to the chest, while turning it with its face away from itself. As a result, zoo employees were forced to take little Shani and raise him without the participation of his mother. Malay and Shani were sorry. So the next time a gorilla was expecting offspring, Cindy Biley, mom of of support group LLL , agreed to sometimes come to the enclosure of the pregnant Malaika with her nine-month-old daughter Christy and breastfeed in front of the amazed monkey.

Cindy says that at first Malaika not only ignored their presence, but turned her back on purpose as soon as she and her daughter sat down on a bench opposite the enclosure. But after some time, the monkey began to show more and more interest in what was happening, and even a little later, he was already looking at Cindy's actions with frank curiosity. nine0011

A newborn cub Malayka put to her breast in the very first minutes after birth and fed with her milk until the age up to which respectable gorilla mothers feed in nature. The press then joked that this time the La Leche League did its job without a single conversation about the benefits of gorilla milk for the growth and development of gorilla cubs. Only with the help of a clear positive example.

I don't think this story is just about teaching a gorilla to breastfeed. We, human mothers, also become clearer about ourselves as a result of such random experiments. Earlier, when mothers at consultations asked: “Well, why is everything so complicated, where do I get these stagnation, cracks, back pain? Shouldn't everything work out by itself, as prescribed by nature? ”, I quickly turned the conversation to another topic. Now I think I know the answer. Malayka prompted him, by the way, also without a single conversation about the need to visit GV support groups. nine0011

For me personally, gorillas have helped lift the veil on yet another mystery that has occupied me ever since I read How to Raise a Happy Child by J. Ledlof. The book tells about the happy infancy of children from a tribe lost in the Amazon jungle. Babies are treated so reasonably there, and the level of happiness in a person who has come out of such a childhood is so different from what we used to consider the norm that the author really, really wants to believe. The book forgives both stylistic errors and some logical contradictions, the experience of natural and wise parental behavior is described so charmingly and convincingly. But you can not take a work of art as a guide to action. Where are the facts, studies? Well, at least a little. Take, for example, the statement about the need for a manual period (wearing on the handles before crawling). Is it really so important for the baby, or did Ledlof come up with a beautiful fairy tale and there are no Yekuan with their slings-slings? nine0011

I unexpectedly found the answer in a well-known city newspaper that was following the developments around a gorilla cub that was born in a Moscow zoo and did not want to stand up. Experts assumed that something was wrong with the limbs of the crumbs, but there were no enthusiasts to take him for examination from a huge aggressive mother who did not let her beloved child out of her arms for a second. We decided to wait and see how things unfold. At about six months of age, the baby suddenly “recovered” and began to walk more and more on his own, each time moving away from his mother a little further. And the gorilla mother began to allow her relatives to examine, touch and stroke the little one. Thank you, Ledlof, thank you, gorilla, I now know for sure that the manual period in primates is a necessary stage of development. nine0011

Nature itself tells us that for us who have been breastfeeding, breastfeeding or planning to breastfeed, mutual support and exchange of experience are absolutely necessary things .

Learn more