Aid to a Declining Matriarch in the Giant Otter Pteronura brasiliensisReport as inadecuate

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Scientists are increasingly revealing the commonalities between the intellectual, emotional and moral capacities of animals and humans. Providing assistance to elderly and ailing family members is a human trait rarely documented for wild animals, other than anecdotal accounts. Here I report observations of multiple forms of assistance to the declining matriarch of a habituated group of giant otters Pteronura brasiliensis in Manu National Park, Peru. The otter group had been observed annually for several years and all members were known individually. In 2007, the breeding female of the group failed to reproduce and appeared to be in physical decline. She begged from other family members 43 times over 41 contact hours and received food 11 times. Comparisons with 2004–2006 demonstrate that the family-s behavior in 2007 constitutes a role-reversal, in which the majority of assistance and prey transfers accrued from young-to-old rather than from old-to-young. As in human societies, both non-adaptive and adaptive hypotheses could explain the family members- aid to their declining matriarch. I suggest that giant otter families may benefit from the knowledge and experience of an elderly matriarch and -grandparent helper,- consistent with the -Grandmother Hypothesis- of adaptive menopause in women.

Author: Lisa C. Davenport



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