Chimp Dads Share the Love

Written By: Matt Brunette, JGI Canada Volunteer
Category: Great Apes

It’s long been thought that male chimps make for mediocre fathers.

Compared to females, male chimpanzees demonstrate a certain nonchalance towards the youngest members of a troop and take on few child rearing responsibilities.

Recent studies, however, suggest that male chimps are much active caregivers than might first appear.

In a study conducted in JGI’s research base in Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania, males were observed spending significant stretches of time in the company of females with offspring, clearly acting in a protective role. Researchers also found that the males associated more with their own offspring than they did with non-related infants and did so early in infancy, suggesting that chimpanzees do have a form of paternal recognition, which many researchers did not think was possible. This is big news for the primate world as these findings may shed light on the evolutionary origin of the more familiar paternal behaviour we see in people.

Ferdinand led his troop in Gombe Park for years before finally being deposed by a younger male.

Another recently published study described a male chimpanzee displaying highly attentive behaviour toward an infant. The chimp carried and groomed the baby for two days before returning the infant to the mother. Such behaviour by male chimpanzees is thought to be extremely rare and usually doesn’t end well for the little one. But in this case the male never directed aggression towards the infant.  Quite the contrary, he held the baby to his chest, supporting and cuddling her.

DNA analysis revealed that the chimp was in fact the infant’s father, further supporting the concept of paternal recognition and child-care investment. And in yet another study, conducted in Cote d’Ivoire, chimpanzee fathers were seen playing more often with their own infants than with ones with whom there was no biological connection.

With this growing body of evidence, it increasingly seems that male chimpanzees can indeed recognize their offspring, engage with them, and be protective of mother and child.  As researchers learn more about chimpanzee behaviour, new discoveries show that fatherhood has a bigger role to play in chimp society than many had realized. Although not as obvious as the bond between mother and offspring, seeing male chimps gently interact with their young is a touching reminder that dads are important too.

This Father’s Day, celebrate all loving Dads in the animal kingdom with a JGI Canada e-card and help protect our closest cousins.