Who’s the Father?

03 March 2010

By Kakae Saiteu - Guide, Greystoke Mahale
Recently, on a normal day tracking chimpanzees, we found quite an impressive social interaction between Orion, an adult male and Tanis 2 year old female infant. The interaction was impressive as Orion was trying to win over Tanis baby, who was sitting by her mothers belly, to come and join him to play. It is a rare phenomenon to see this kind of interaction between adult males and infants. It is a more common interaction between juveniles or infants.

On that date Orion was pursuing Tanis baby to play with him by looking straight to her, flamboyantly swinging and moving his body in a playful manner. He even physically pulled the baby away from her mother. Following Orions persistence, the infant eventually went to join him. Orion took the baby by her hand, cuddled her and the two engaged in a playful moment. He kept on tickling her, gently grooming and pretending as if he was biting her and kept performing all sorts of different playful gestures. They did that for sometime before the group started to walk away from where they had been resting. After witnessing this scene, we were all curious to know whether Orion was the father of the baby - especially because of the way he was treating the baby with great care.

That friendly interaction between Orion and the baby raised some questions and speculations; some thought Orion is the father as he treated the baby nicely, while others thought it could have been a coincidence that Orion wanted an infant to play with and it happened to be Tanis baby who was nearby. To answer this question we certainly would need a DNA test, which is not possible to do.

We explored the possibilities of Orion being the father by referring to other sites where chimpanzee research has been going on where DNA tests were conducted to determine paternity among infants, like Tai forest in Ivory Coast, The DNA test results show that those infants who were found playing and accompanying certain males more often than others, were with their fathers. That could be the same case for Orion and the baby. However, that still cannot be a definite conclusion as the sample size considered for the testing was small and it could still be a pure coincidence that the infants were with males that fathered them at a time when sampling for DNA tests was conducted.

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