Monkey 'Midwife' Observed Helping A New Mother Give Birth

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Shattering the long-held belief that humans are the only animals on earth to come to one another's aid during the birthing process, researchers in China have captured the first photographic evidence that monkeys too might sometimes help a mother deliver her baby.

Warning: Graphic image below

Peking University assistant professor Meng Yao and her team were observing a troop of white-headed langur monkeys in the wild when they witnessed behavior she describes as "totally unexpected." After a langur went into labor and her offspring began to emerge from the birth canal, an older female from the group rushed to her assistance - literally guiding the infant out with her hands.

Yao told the BBC that the mother "complied immediately and did not show any resistance." The "midwife" monkey reportedly held and licked the newborn for several moments before handing him back to the mother, for whom this was her first offspring.

(Tieliu Gu)

In a study on this behavior published in the journal Primates, researchers call such intervention through childbirth a "rare phenomenon," adding that it is "generally believed to be a behavior unique to our species."

Similar behavior in nonhuman primates had previously been seen only once before, among a group of black and white snub-nosed monkeys in 2013. That instance, however, was not photographed or well-documented, the BBC reports.

While origin of this behavior is still a source of speculation, primatologist Dr. Carol M. Berman, unaffiliated with the study, told The Dodo that primates typically require no intervention during labor and that this might be just an isolated incident. Unlike humans, whose pelvises are much smaller in relation to the size of newborns, langurs and other animals face fewer complications from the birthing process.