Reproductive aging in captive and wild common chimpanzees: factors influencing the rate of follicular depletion


  • Sylvia Atsalis,

    Corresponding author
    1. School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona
    2. Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago, Illinois
    3. Conservation and Research of Endangered Species, The Zoological Society of San Diego, Escondido, California
    • Lincoln Park Zoo, 2001 North Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60614
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  • Elaine Videan

    1. Alamagordo Primate Facility, Holloman AFB, Alamagordo, New Mexico
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We examine and discuss evidence of contrasting differences in fertility patterns between captive and wild female chimpanzees, Pan troglodytes, as they age; in the wild females reproduce in their 40s, but captive studies suggest that menopause occurs around that time. Thus, despite the increased longevity generally observed in captive populations reproductive life span is shortened. We outline a hypothesis to explain the apparent differential pace of reproductive decline observed between wild and captive populations. The breeding schedules of captive primates may contribute to accelerated reproductive senescence because continuous cycling in captive animals results in early depletion of the ovarian stock and premature senescence. Available evidence supports the hypothesis that women with patterns of high oocyte loss experience earlier menopause. Chimpanzees in captivity live longer, and thus, similar to humans, they may experience follicular depletion that precedes death by many years. In captivity, chimpanzees typically have an early age at menarche and first birth, shorter interbirth intervals associated with short lactational periods as young mature faster, and nursery rearing, which allows mothers to begin cycling earlier. Variables typical of wild chimpanzee populations, including late age at menarche and first birth, long interbirth intervals associated with prolonged lactational periods, and a long period of female infertility after immigration, spare ovulations and may be responsible for the later age at reproductive termination. Finally, we describe and discuss the timing of specific reproductive landmarks that occur as female chimpanzees age, distinguishing between functional menopause (age at last birth) and operational menopause (end of cycling). Am. J. Primatol. 71:271–282, 2009. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.