New publication: Comparative primate obstetrics: Observations of 15 diurnal births in wild gelada monkeys (Theropithecus gelada) and their implications for understanding human and nonhuman primate birth evolution

By Nga Nguyen*, Laura M. Lee, Peter J. Fashing*, ... , G. Anita Eriksen*, et al. in American Journal of Physical Anthropology



The birth process has been studied extensively in many human societies, yet little is known about this essential life history event in other primates. Here, we provide the most detailed account of behaviors surrounding birth for any wild nonhuman primate to date.

Materials and Methods

Over a recent ∼10-year period, we directly observed 15 diurnal births (13 live births and 2 stillbirths) among geladas (Theropithecus gelada) at Guassa, Ethiopia. During each birth, we recorded the occurrence (or absence) of 16 periparturitional events, chosen for their potential to provide comparative evolutionary insights into the factors that shaped birth behaviors in humans and other primates.


We found that several events (e.g., adopting standing crouched positions, delivering infants headfirst) occurred during all births, while other events (e.g., aiding the infant from the birth canal, licking infants following delivery, placentophagy) occurred during, or immediately after, most births. Moreover, multiparas (n = 9) were more likely than primiparas (n = 6) to (a) give birth later in the day, (b) isolate themselves from nearby conspecifics while giving birth, (c) aid the infant from the birth canal, and (d) consume the placenta.


Our results suggest that prior maternal experience may contribute to greater competence or efficiency during the birth process. Moreover, face presentations (in which infants are born with their neck extended and their face appearing first, facing the mother) appear to be the norm for geladas. Lastly, malpresentations (in which infants are born in the occiput anterior position more typical of human infants) may be associated with increased mortality in this species. We compare the birth process in geladas to those in other primates (including humans) and discuss several key implications of our study for advancing understanding of obstetrics and the mechanism of labor in humans and nonhuman primates.

American Journal of Physical Anthropology
First published: 1 February 2017
DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.23141
Publication webpage.

* Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis (CEES), Department of Biosciences, UiO.
See the publication webpage for full author information

Tags: American Journal of Physical Anthropology;
Published May 24, 2017 2:23 PM - Last modified May 24, 2017 2:33 PM