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Primates. 2011 Apr;52(2):179-86. doi: 10.1007/s10329-011-0238-6. Epub 2011 Feb 17.

Reproductive failure, possible maternal infanticide, and cannibalism in wild moustached tamarins, Saguinus mystax.

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Primatology Research Group, Behavioural Biology Unit, University of Liège, Quai van Beneden, Bât. I1, 4020, Liège, Belgium.


Maternal infanticide in wild non-human primates has only been reported twice. In this paper, we report a possible new case of infanticide and cannibalism within a series of four successive reproductive failures in wild moustached tamarins, Saguinus mystax. Necropsy and genetic analyses of the corpses enabled us to rule out any pathology, and to determine paternity. The mother was seen biting and then eating the head of its own infant during a period when another female was pregnant and gave birth just 1 month later. Before that, the perpetrator had given birth to twins three times successfully when four to five adult and subadult males were present in the group. Although we do not know for certain that the infant was alive when the mother started biting it, our field observations preceding the event suggest it probably was. The possible infanticide case and the two cases of births and early death of the infants occurred while only two to three adult males were present in the group. This could be the second case of maternal infanticide reported in the genus Saguinus and the similar circumstances suggest a common pattern. We discuss these events in the light of the different functional explanations of infanticide and conclude that parental manipulation was the most likely: the mother could have terminated the investment in offspring that had low chances of survival in a group with low availability of helpers.

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