Are male orangutans a threat to infants? Evidence of mother-offspring counter strategies to infanticide in Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus wurmbii)
Scott, Amy M.
Knott, Cheryl D.
Susanto, Tri Wahyu
MetadataShow full item record
Citation (published version)Amy M Scott, Cheryl D Knott, Tri Wahyu Susanto. 2019. "Are Male Orangutans a Threat to Infants? Evidence of Mother–Offspring Counterstrategies to Infanticide in Bornean Orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus wurmbii)." International Journal of Primatology, Volume 40, Issue 3, pp. 435 - 455. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10764-019-00097-8
Sexually selected infanticide by males is widespread in primates. Female primates employ a variety of strategies to reduce infanticide risk. While infanticide has never been directly observed in wild orangutans (Pongo spp.), their slow life history makes infants vulnerable to infanticide. The mating strategies of female orangutans include polyandrous and postconceptive mating that may serve to increase paternity confusion, an infanticide avoidance strategy. Here, we investigate whether female orangutans alter their social interactions with males as another infanticide avoidance strategy. We hypothesize that females with younger offspring avoid males and that the distance between mother and offspring decreases in the presence of males. We use long-term behavioral data collected between 1994 and 2016 from Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus wurmbii) in Gunung Palung National Park, Indonesia, to test whether the sexual selection hypothesis for infanticide helps explain aspects of orangutan social behavior. We found that mothers with offspring <6 yr. old both encountered fewer males and spent less time with males during social interactions than did mothers with offspring >6 yr. old and females without offspring. In addition, the distance between a mother–offspring dyad showed a statistically significant decrease in the presence of males, but not females. Our results are consistent with the hypothesis that female orangutans employ strategies to reduce infanticide risk in their social interactions. Because orangutans have a high fission–fusion dynamic, they have flexibility in manipulating social interactions as a counter-infanticide strategy. Our results suggest that infanticide by males is a selective pressure shaping female orangutan social behavior.