Bonobos are highly social. Image: Wikimedia CC

Humans aren’t the only ones with midwives, it seems. Captive female bonobos have recently been observed assisting one another during birth, comforting the mother until the baby arrives.

A research team from the University of Pisa and Unversité Claude Bernard Lyon witnessed the behavior at wildlife parks in the Netherlands and France on multiple occasions, and have since compared the process to midwifery in humans.

The team describes the births as “social events” where females gather around the expecting mother to provide her support until the baby is born. The protective females groom her and keep surrounding males at bay, and even make attempts at delivering the emerging infant.

Image: Wikimedia CC/Pierre Fidenci

The group dynamic is likely not a necessity but a result of strong social bonds, as bonobo mothers are completely capable of giving birth on their own.

It’s not just captive bonobos, either. Only one known account of a bonobo giving birth in the wild exists, but reports of the event were strikingly similar. In that particular encounter, a female was joined by two others that remained with the mother during the birth. Afterward, all three dined on part of the placenta together. Witnessing such a birth in the wild is exceedingly rare, as it generally takes place at night.

Bonobos share about 99% of our DNA and, along with the common chimpanzee, are our closest living relatives. The highly social species is found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Central Africa and is currently listed as endangered.

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