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Monday, February 8, 2010

Altruism in Forest Chimpanzees: The Case of Adoption

Figure 3. The adult male Porthos with his adopted female infant Gia.

Altruism in Forest Chimpanzees: The Case of Adoption
Christophe Boesch
, Camille Bolé, Nadin Eckhardt, Hedwige Boesch


In recent years, extended altruism towards unrelated group members has been proposed to be a unique characteristic of human societies. Support for this proposal seemingly came from experimental studies on captive chimpanzees that showed that individuals were limited in the ways they shared or cooperated with others. This dichotomy between humans and chimpanzees was proposed to indicate an important difference between the two species, and one study concluded that “chimpanzees are indifferent to the welfare of unrelated group members”. In strong contrast with these captive studies, consistent observations of potentially altruistic behaviors in different populations of wild chimpanzees have been reported in such different domains as food sharing, regular use of coalitions, cooperative hunting and border patrolling. This begs the question of what socio-ecological factors favor the evolution of altruism. Here we report 18 cases of adoption, a highly costly behavior, of orphaned youngsters by group members in Taï forest chimpanzees. Half of the adoptions were done by males and remarkably only one of these proved to be the father. Such adoptions by adults can last for years and thus imply extensive care towards the orphans. These observations reveal that, under the appropriate socio-ecologic conditions, chimpanzees do care for the welfare of other unrelated group members and that altruism is more extensive in wild populations than was suggested by captive studies.

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