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Am J Phys Anthropol. 2002 May;118(1):25-32.

Male orangutan subadulthood: a new twist on the relationship between chronic stress and developmental arrest.

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Department of Anthropological Sciences, Stanford University, California 94305-2117, USA.


Both in the wild and in captivity, a marked and enduring arrest of secondary sexual developmental occurs in some male orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) (Kingsley [1982] The Orang-Utan: Its Biology and Conservation, The Hague: Junk; Utami [2000]). Researchers have hypothesized that chronic stress, perhaps related to aggression from mature males, causes endocrine changes altering growth and maturation rates in these males (Maple [1980] Orangutan Behavior, New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold; Graham [1988] Orangutan Biology, Oxford: Oxford University Press). In this study, urine samples were collected over a 3-year period from 23 captive male orangutans to test the hypothesis that developmentally arrested male orangutans have an endocrine profile consistent with chronic stress. Three study males were juveniles, seven were arrested adolescents, six were developing adolescents, and seven were mature adults. Morning samples were analyzed by radioimmunoassay for levels of the stress hormones cortisol and prolactin, and group hormone profiles were compared by analysis of variance. Results indicate that developing adolescent male orangutans have a significantly higher stress hormone profile than juvenile, developmentally arrested adolescent, or adult males. These results imply that the arrest of secondary sexual development in some male orangutans is not stress-induced, but instead perhaps an adaptation for stress avoidance during the adolescent or "subadult" period. These data, together with previously reported data on levels of gonadotropins, testicular steroids, and growth-related hormones, define endocrine profiles associated with alternative reproductive strategies for males with and males without secondary sexual features (Maggioncalda et al. [1999], [2000].

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