Male and female birth attendance and assistance in a species of non-human primate (Rhinopithecus bieti)

Yan Peng Li, Tai Zhong, Zhi Pang Huang, Ru Liang Pan, Paul A. Garber, Feng Qin Yu, Wen Xiao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Birth attendance, or midwifery service, is an important characteristic in human evolution, and has been argued to separate our lineage from other taxa in the animal kingdom. Recent studies, however, indicate that similar or analogous behaviors also may occur in a small number of nonhuman primate species. Here, we report the first case of both male and female attendance and female birth assistance in a wild species of nonhuman primate, the black-and-white snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus bieti). At our field site in Yunnan, China we observed a diurnal birth event in which the leader male of a one-male unit (OMU) remained in close- proximity (0–2 m) to the parturient, groomed her, and remained vigilant over a five hour pre- and postpartum period. In addition, a multiparous female member of the OMU also remained in close proximity to the soon-to-be mother, helped to pull the neonate from the birth canal, took the neonate from the new mother within 15 s of the birth, held the infant for 20 min, and then severed the umbilical cord. For the next several days the leader male traveled in close-proximity to the new mother and four days after the birth event, we observed him to share food with her. Given that diurnal births are extremely rare in this primate species; it remains unclear the degree to which the events we observed commonly occur during nighttime births. We argue that adult male and female black-and-white snub-nosed monkeys are highly attracted to young infants, and birth attendance and birth assistance in this, and certain other primate species, may play a critical role in maternal and infant survivorship.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104248
JournalBehavioural Processes
StatePublished - Dec 2020


  • Female birth assistance
  • Male birth attendance
  • Rhinopithecus bieti
  • Survivorship

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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