NAGOYA – A chimpanzee that has learned hundreds of numbers and letters has given birth, and researchers plan to study whether the baby has inherited any of its mother’s abilities, they said Tuesday.
Ayumu, a male, was born Monday night at the Primate Research Institute of Kyoto University in Inuyama, Aichi Prefecture.
The research is expected to attract a lot of attention because it is rare for such skilled chimpanzees to give birth.
Since 1995, the institute has been studying whether chimpanzees pass on their abilities from generation to generation, according to institute researcher Tetsuro Matsuzawa.
Ayumu’s birth is a major event for the facility, as it is the first among its primates in 16 years.
The mother, Ai, 23, was impregnated by artificial insemination.
Staff at the institute spent two decades teaching her several hundred numbers and kanji, some of which she can arrange in short sequences.
Two other chimps with similar abilities are also pregnant and are expected to give birth in June and August.
“We also want to study the transmission of abilities to the two other offspring, not just Ayumu,” Matsuzawa said.
Researchers have not been able to examine the baby, because Ai has been holding him since birth. He apparently appears normal and the pair look healthy and happy.
Ai first came to the institute at age 1, and has been learning numbers and characters ever since.
There had been fears she would reject the baby, a tendency that exists among about half the chimpanzees raised at research centers in general, according to Matsuzawa.
Unlike chimpanzees in the wild, Ai never had the opportunity to observe others raising their young.
So in preparation, Matsuzawa gave Ai a stuffed toy to hold about a month ago and showed her a video of chimpanzees in the wild.
At first, Ai appeared to reject the stuffed toy, holding it above her head and occasionally discarding it. However, she later began holding it close to her body.
The birth Monday showed that Ai’s maternal instincts were intact. When Ayumu first emerged, he appeared still and asphyxiated. Ai then stuck a finger in his mouth, allowing him to breathe. Ai also cleared away the afterbirth.
It was a big change in behavior from Ai’s previous attempt to give birth in 1998, when her baby was still-born. On seeing it, Ai whined briefly before abandoning it.
“This could have been an instinct of female chimpanzees. Still, we found that the child-raising training was not without purpose,” Matsuzawa said.