Corpse-directed play parenting by a sterile adult female chimpanzee

Jacob D. Negrey, Kevin E. Langergraber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


The study of representational play in nonhuman primates, including chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), provides interspecific perspectives on human cognitive development and evolution. A notable form of representational play in chimpanzees is play parenting, wherein parental behavior is directed at inanimate objects. Though observed in captivity, unambiguous examples of play parenting by wild chimpanzees are rare. Here, we report two cases from Ngogo in Kibale National Park, Uganda, in which a wild adult female chimpanzee (P. t. schweinfurthii) directed parental behaviors at corpses. Both cases involved the same adult female chimpanzee, aged 20–21 years. The first case was observed on 5 March 2016, and the play object was the corpse of a bushbaby (Galago thomasi); in the second case, observed on 6 May 2017, the play object was a recently deceased chimpanzee infant postmortally stolen from the mother. The chimpanzee possessed the first and second play objects for approximately 5.5 h and 1.8 h, respectively. In both cases, she performed a variety of maternal behaviors, including co-nesting, grooming, and dorsally carrying the play objects. In contrast to previous observations of play parenting in captivity, the play parent was a presumably sterile adult female, well beyond the average age of first birth. These observations contribute to the expanding literature on chimpanzee interactions with the corpses of both conspecifics and heterospecifics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)29-34
Number of pages6
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020


  • Bushbaby
  • Chimpanzee
  • Object manipulation
  • Play parenting
  • Representational play

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology


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