When we picture a family of gorillas, the largest and most threatening image is of the father gorilla. A strong, dominant figure, we normally don’t imagine this guy snuggling juvenile gorillas or grooming babies that are not his own. However, a long-term study of a group of wild male mountain gorillas in Rwanda has proven that our idea of the head of the family is as menacing as he seems. In fact, the main male might have something to gain by being fatherly- reproductive opportunities.

Who’s your daddy?

Anthropologists at Northwestern University wanted to find out why male gorillas in this tribe chose to be a father figure to all babies in their social circle. How would this benefit the male when it seems extremely out of character?

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While watching the male gorilla cuddle, groom, and generally take care of the mothers and babies of his extended family, researchers began to see a pattern. These males were choosing behaviors that put them in the right place at the right time.

The reproductive battle

When spending more time in the den with the family, the male gorillas were more likely to be chosen for reproductive activities. Scientists are still pondering whether these parenting behaviors were something the females preferred when choosing a sexual partner.

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Regardless of whether it is the male behavior causing a testosterone spike or a preferred option for females, it was clear that the male gorillas who portrayed themselves as our definition of fatherly were the winners.

Discovering more about human dads

Researchers are still studying these families of wild gorillas. In fact, studies on these families have been going on since the 1960s. Long-term studies are extremely important for understanding developing species, especially ones that are extremely endangered.

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These beautiful animals have so much to continue to tell us about our own development as humans. This study will hopefully continue to open up many more areas of interest and answer questions about our own human fathers and how their parenting techniques came to be.