White monkey syndrome and presumptive copper deficiency in wild savannah baboons

Journal Article

In immature wild savannah baboons (Papio cynocephalus), we observed symptoms consistent with copper (Cu) deficiency and, more specifically, with a disorder referred to as white monkey syndrome (WMS) in laboratory primates. The objectives of this study were to characterize this pathology, and test three hypotheses that (1) Cu deficiency may have been induced by zinc (Zn) toxicity, (2) it may have been induced by molybdenum (Mo) toxicity, and (3) cumulative rainfall during the perinatal period and particularly during gestation is an ecological factor distinguishing infants afflicted with WMS from non-WMS infants. During 2001-2009, we observed 22 instances of WMS out of a total 377 live births in the study population. Visible symptoms exhibited by WMS infants included whitening of the animal's fur and/or impaired mobility characterized by an apparent "stiffening" of the hindlimbs. Occurrence of WMS did not vary significantly by gender. However, among individuals that survived at least 180 days, WMS males had a significantly lower survivorship probability than non-WMS males. Zn/Cu ratios assessed from hair samples of adult female baboons were higher in females who had produced at least one WMS offspring relative to females who had not had a WMS offspring. This was true even when the hair sample was collected long after the birth of the female's afflicted infant. We consider this potentially indicative of a robust tendency for low Cu levels induced by elevated Zn intake in some individuals. No significant differences of Mo/Cu ratios were observed. Cumulative rainfall during gestation (~179 days) was 50% lower for WMS infants relative to non-WMS infants. In contrast, rainfall for the two classes of infants did not differ in the 180 days before conception or in the 180 days following birth. This finding highlights the importance of prenatal ecological conditions in healthy fetal development with regard to WMS. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Markham, AC; Gesquiere, LR; Bellenger, J-P; Alberts, SC; Altmann, J

Published Date

  • 2011

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 73 / 11

Start / End Page

  • 1160 - 1168

PubMed ID

  • 21898510

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0275-2565

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1002/ajp.20983