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Abort!

February 27, 2012

Torah Kachur

I was lucky enough to travel to Ethiopia a year ago and wander through troops of Gelada baboons in the Simien mountains.  They stole my garbage from my tent while I was busy stealing pictures.  They are an interesting bunch of monkeys, they are endemic (or only found) in Ethiopia and have a unique bare patch on their chest that can appear more red in females during estrus and it is a symbol of power to the males, giving rise to their common name - the Bleeding Heart Baboon.

 

Torah Kachur Gelada Baboon Ethiopia Simien WanderingGeneticist

 

Males are the dominant sex where a single male rules over a dozen or so females.  However, let's face it, the females just pretend that the male has control.  When a dominant male is ousted, the new male often goes and kills all related males of the group - a common technique of many organisms to control their own secession.  It makes him feel all powerful and allows him to thrust his muscles and gain obedience from his new sister-wives.

 

Except, the joke's on him.

 

Female gelada baboons have now been observed to undergo the "Bruce Effect" - where they can undergo spontaneous miscarriages upon takeover from another male.  The Bruce effect isn't a statement on men named Bruce, but named after the scientist who originally discovered this phenomenon in mice, Hilda Bruce.  Biological abortions have been shown in many different lab creatures and domestic animals including horses as a response to a new dominant male, but this is the first time it has been observed in a primate and in a wild species.

 

It is a bit of a mercy-kill in a way, the mothers protect their babies from certain death by aborting them.  Whether it is to gain ultimate favor from the new man on the block or as an way to protect her young, we still don't know.

 

What we do know is that the recent statements of the male Republican candidates debating the rights of a woman to control her body shows just how clueless the Rick Santorums of the world really are....despite their remarkable likeness to the Geladas.

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