Baboon brawls bring out fatherly bonds

Oct. 6, 2003, 11:48 a.m.

The image of the dad who sticks up for his children on the playground may grow out of a parenting instinct that extends further back in primate evolution than previously believed.

A study published Sept. 11 in the journal Nature has shown that male baboons in Kenya commonly identify and care for their own genetic offspring, despite the mothers having mated with several different males.

From 1999 to 2002, researchers from Princeton and Duke universities, the University of California-Los Angeles and Kenya observed male baboons intervene in fights involving juveniles and noted which young one received favored treatment. They also conducted genetic testing on fecal samples from the baboons and established definitive family lineages. The researchers found that nearly all males were two to 10 times more likely to intervene on behalf of their own young as opposed to those of other fathers.

"The tendency of dads to help their own offspring runs quite deep in our primate heritage," said Jeanne Altmann , a Princeton professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and co-author of the study.

The full story is available in the Weekly Bulletin.

Contact: Eric Quinones (609) 258-3601