Chimpanzees have substantial post-menopausal lives

A recent study shows that chimps also have to endure "the change"!

Imogen Smillie
21st November 2023
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons @DPLA (Digital Public Library of America https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Female_chimpanzee_with_offspring_-_DPLA_-_fa47f01030bd97789bc298a73056974f.jpg
Perhaps you’re lik­­e me, and you’ve heard about the joys of that… ‘interesting’ change one may go through later in life: the menopause. Similar to when a young person blessed with the female reproductive system starts their period, this change adapts their (reproductive) life both physically and mentally. But did you know, this also occurs with female chimpanzees?

A recent study tells us that female chimps are one of few animal species to exhibit the process of menopause, alongside humans and a few species of toothed whales.

The study aims to look at the demographic and endocrine data of 185 female chimpanzees at the Kibale National Park, in Uganda. Spanning a whopping 21 years of observation, analysis followed age-associated trends in hormone levels from 66 females varying from 17 to 67 years old.

Now we know our close animal relatives also go through ‘the change’

These hormone levels (taken from pee samples) were then compared to those of human females to identify the process of menopause in the chimps. And the results were very interesting…

The hormones levels showed that, yes, these chimps experience a reproductive transition similar to humans, characterised by increased levels of FSH and LH hormones and declined levels of oestrogen and progesterone.

Another result was based on the age of these chimps. It appeared normal for the females in this study to live past 50 years old. These age ranges showed that any female who reached adulthood was post-reproductive for about one-fifth of her adult-life. Around half as long as humans!

Spanning a whopping 21 years of observation

Perhaps now that we know our close animal relatives also go through ‘the change’, we can learn from this study on how our hormones actually change during this time. It may also spur further studies into menopause studies of other animals (I’m personally very interested if the humble sloth has to endure the torture).

So, while the menopause may still be seen as a taboo subject for most of the human patriarchal society (boooooo!), maybe the chimps can understand it better!

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