How bonobo mothers help their sons find love

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In this photo received by AFP on May 20, 2019 by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, a young juvenile male bonobo is groomed by his mom in the Kokolopori Bonobo Reserve in Djolu Territory of Tshuapa District in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. (AFP)
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In this file photo taken on November 4, 2006 in the "Lola ya bonobo" parc near Kinshasa shows young bonobos, living only in the Democratic republic of Congo (DRC). (AFP)
Updated 21 May 2019

How bonobo mothers help their sons find love

  • Bonobo mothers did not go the extra mile for their daughters, nor did they help their daughters raise offspring

WASHINGTON: Anyone who’s experienced a mother pushing them to get a move on and produce grandkids might just sympathize with this.
A new study has described the outsized role bonobo moms play in their sons’ sex lives: from pulling rank to ensure their male offspring get to meet attractive ovulating females, to interfering with male rivals’ attempts to mate.
The paper was published Monday in the journal Current Biology and found that bonobo males whose mothers were alive and remained in their group were three times more likely to father children.
And the authors credited the success of the “wingmoms” on the nature of bonobos’ female-dominant societies, which have long been known for their altruistic and peaceful character, in contrast to more violent and patriarchal chimpanzees.
“This is the first time that we can show the impact of the mother’s presence on a very important male fitness trait, which is their fertility,” co-author Martin Surbeck, a primatologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany said in a statement.
“We were surprised to see that the mothers have such a strong, direct influence on the number of grandchildren they get.”
For the study, Surbeck and colleagues observed wild bonobo populations in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as wild populations of chimpanzees in Ivory Coast, Tanzania, and Uganda.
To verify paternity, they collected the primates’ droppings for DNA analysis.

They found that while both bonobo and chimpanzee mothers attempted to assist their sons, bonobos were far more successful because their communities’ highest ranks are dominated by females.
Chimpanzee communities on the other hand are dominated by males who compete for alpha status.
The two species together are humans’ closest relatives in the animal kingdom and share about 99 percent of our DNA.
“The bonobo moms act a bit like social passports,” Surbeck told AFP.
“The sons, in close proximity to their moms, are also very central in the group and access positions in the group that allow them to interact more with other females including copulation.”
“If there’s a female who’s very attractive, you see moms stick around them, and in the shadow of their moms are the males,” he added.
By contrast, they found that if a mother lost her high rank, her son also fell in rank and was subsequently less successful in his mating attempts.
In addition to intervening in their sons’ rivals attempt to mate, bonobo mothers also protected their own sons from the efforts of rivals to disrupt courting and sex.

Interestingly, bonobo mothers did not go the extra mile for their daughters, nor did they help their daughters raise offspring.
Surbeck believes that, since bonobo daughters leave the community and males remain behind, it may simply not be worth the mothers’ time and efforts from an evolutionary perspective.
One thing the team believes they may now have tentative evidence for is the so-called “grandmother hypothesis“: that a post-reproductive female can increase her own lifespan and continue her genes by ensuring her offspring’s reproductive success.
It is an idea that anthropologists have applied to humans and Surbeck believes it could also be the case for bonobo populations.
“The interesting thing now is in bonobos we have such a mechanism, apparently allowing the females to do that, but intriguingly not through their daughters but their sons,” he told AFP.
Moving forward, Surbeck said he would like to confirm through more long-term research the benefits of the behavior on the longevity of mothers, and find out whether mothers exhibit welcoming behavior to new female arrivals in the community who go on to become their sons’ mates.
More broadly, he said, studying the differences between gender egalitarian and largely peaceful bonobo societies, in which members practice both heterosexual and homosexual sex to strengthen social bonds; versus alpha-male led chimpanzee societies, could yield clues about our own evolutionary past.
“One has to be clear — we did not evolve from bonobos or chimpanzees but we share with them a common ancestry,” said Surbeck.
“Comparing us with our closest living relatives might give some idea about traits which could evolve under selective pressures.”


Taj Mahal damaged in deadly India thunderstorm

Updated 31 May 2020

Taj Mahal damaged in deadly India thunderstorm

  • India’s top tourist attraction has been shut since mid-March as part of measures to try and combat the coronavirus pandemic

AGRA, India: A deadly thunderstorm that rolled across parts of northern India damaged sections of the Taj Mahal complex, including the main gate and a railing running below its five lofty domes, officials said Sunday.
One of the New Seven Wonders of the World, India’s top tourist attraction has been shut since mid-March as part of measures to try and combat the coronavirus pandemic.
AFP images showed workers assessing the railing of the main mausoleum, after the storm on Friday night battered Agra city in northern Uttar Pradesh state.
“One sandstone railing which was a part of the original structure has been damaged,” Superintending Archaeologist of the Archaeological Survey of India, Vasant Kumar Swarnkar, said.
“One marble railing which was a later addition, a false ceiling in the tourist holding area and the base stone of the main gate has also been damaged.”
He added there was no damage to the main structure of the monument to love — built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a tomb for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth in 1631.
Local media reports said thunderstorms and lightning on Friday killed at least 13 people in two Uttar Pradesh districts.
Fatal lightning strikes are relatively common during the June-October monsoon season.
Last year, at least 150 people were killed by lightning in August and September in Madhya Pradesh state in central India.