Primates on the pill
- Primates on the pill
- 19 July 2007
- NewScientist.com news service
Roman Catholic doctrine doesn't have much to say about monkey morality, but there could be trouble if it did. Olive baboons in Nigeria sometimes consume natural contraceptives that may make the females less attractive to the males and almost certainly lower their chances of becoming pregnant.
That's the conclusion of James Higham of Roehampton University, UK, and colleagues, who found high levels of phyto-progestogens in the faeces of female baboons in Gashaka-Gumti National Park at certain times of year.
Like the synthetic progestogens used in the pill, phyto-progestogens have a hormonal contraceptive effect similar to progesterone. Higham's team found that levels of these progestogens surged in females during the plum season. From August to October, the baboons in the study area feed extensively on the progestogen-rich black plum Vitex doniana. In a group of 13 females, the more progestogen excreted, the less the females' rumps developed pink sexual swelling - which is what attracts male attention (Hormones and Behaviour, DOI: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2007.06.003).
Primatologist Patricia Whitten of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, thinks that it might benefit the baboons, which are able to breed year round, not to conceive in the plum season, as this is the rainiest time of year, when disease is most likely.From issue 2613 of New Scientist magazine, 19 July 2007, page 19