'Hippie' apes seen eating their own dead children

Two bonobo mothers have been seen cannibalising their own offspring, in what is believed to be an extremely rare act

The video above contains footage that some people may find distressing.

At two separate sites in the Democratic Republic of Congo, wild bonobo mothers have been observed eating their dead infants. It was a meal they shared with other bonobos, with the dominant female deciding who got access to the meat.

The behaviour has only been observed once before, which suggests it is extremely rare. You can see the unexpected behaviour in the video above.

One of the study's authors, Nahoko Tokuyama of Kyoto University in Japan, says she does not know why the behaviour occurred. "It may be explained by nutritional benefit. However, the number of cases is too small to find biological reasons."

She was shocked when she saw Hideo (pictured below), an older brother of one of the dead babies appearing to look "happy when he was eating his dead younger sibling". She says they treated the dead infants as they would any other meat.

The research was published in the journal Primates.

Melissa Hogenboom is BBC Earth's feature writer. She is @melissasuzanneh on Twitter.

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