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ResearchBlogging.org I remember the first time I saw a primate. It was at the Philadelphia Zoo and I believe it was an orangutan. I was too young to value it, but I recall looking at it for a few seconds. I stopped. I then looked up at my dad and grandmother who was visiting from out-of-state and said in the sassiest tone a four or five year old could muster:

“This is boooooooooring. I want to see the cats.”

It’s not an understatement to say I didn’t give a guenon’s turd about primates. Growing up, I thought primates were overrated—big cats were the most wonderful, splendid, fantastic thing possible; they were like a cupcake, cake, Pixie-Stix, candy, and unbridled joy combined in animal form to me. It wouldn’t be until about fifteen years later I actually got to getting what the fuss was about. By this time, I’d appreciated primates from an evolutionary perspective, but never really got further than that. At least, until I had taken ANTHRO 105.

In this class, I think I got the best primer for anthropology possible, due entirely to Rockstar Mentor.  When the genetics business got out of the way, we started with primates. Every class captivated me more than the last—and then, one day, we went to the zoo to see the primates there. Our instruction was to basically perform an ad libitum scan on any of the primates as part of practice—and I took off running with the assignment. I remember having 2 pages worth of information within a 20 minute period on the chimpanzees. I loved it and I’ve come back to visit the chimpanzees every now and then, remembering the bond I had with doing my “first research.”

 

Interspecies Bonding

In the March 2011 issue of American Journal of Primatology, it’s a special issue dedicated to the idea of the effects of bonds between human and non-human primates on primatological research and practice. In one of the articles by Rose (2011), he examines the influence of human and non-human primates on one another and the effects it has on the environment in which both interact.

Within the article, Rose asserts that “… primatology is vulnerable and verdant field for emersion of the many and often contradictory effects of interspecies bonding.”  He argues that sometimes this is necessary; particularly in the case of conservation efforts in places like zoos where people can really see and connect to an individual and be more likely to fund projects related to conservation based on this connection.  On the contrary, he also goes on to believe that with these bonds, we can sometimes create a hierarchy of species worth saving (particularly because of its affiliation with human-domination) as opposed to other species that might be left out due to human preferential treatment.

But are these interspecies bonding effects really that contradictory? I think it can be true that while we do want to save a species because of its value as a human-affiliated species, we can also save a lot of other species in the process of conserving one species. For example, the most endangered ape, the Hainan black crested gibbon (Nomascus hainanus).

A male Hainan gibbon, the most endangered ape in the world. (Photo by: 4apes.com)

As it stands currently, the Hainan eastern black crested gibbon is down to 22 members, as of this morning. While the Hainan gibbons are threatened by hunting and habitat loss, it is considered an “umbrella species” because of its preference of living in a mature forest (Chan et al. 2005). Umbrella species often serve as a barometer of the ecological integrity of an ecosystem; when a certain species designated as an umbrella species receives conservation efforts, it is likely to have a positive effect on other species which share the same ecosystem.  In the case of conservation efforts to save the Hainan gibbons, particularly in growing pine plantations and gibbon food plant species, other species that are perhaps not related also receive the benefits of the conservation efforts of creating corridors and linking to ravine rainforest habitats for alleviating the habitat loss effects (Chan et al. 2005). By growing these corridors and expanding the available trees, it is thought that by expanding the habitat used by the gibbons, population might be able to increase because of the extra available resources.

In addition to the Hainan gibbons, other species that would receive some benefit from these conservation efforts of adding more trees and creating corridors include vulnerable species such as the Hainan partridge and the Hainan leaf-warbler, which are sympatric with the Hainan gibbons. Both of these bird species tend to prefer lowland forests, of which Hainan gibbons were also known to use, prior to the land being cleared for rubber plantations (Chan et al. 2005). As such, by protecting the Hainan gibbon, some conservation protection is extended to other species as well.

 

The Seeds of Biosynergy

Another interesting concept Rose raises within the article is the idea of biosynergy. He defines this as the cooperative interaction between species in which the combined effect plays a role in the same ecosystem in which they work together.

Biosynergy is something I’ve always had a great curiosity about, particularly in the context of primates and public health. I’ve been wanting to study the effects of human primate hunters and their relationship with non-human primates in terms of zoonotic transmission and medicine—how do the hunters perceive primates? Can they be used as a “traditional medicine?” If so, how do they heal the body? Fortunately, I’ve had some previous experience with biosynergy in action:

Mona, shortly before spitting that seed out onto my head with impressive accuracy. (Photo by: A.V.S.)

When I did my research at La Suerte Biological Field Station and was following the capuchins (Cebus capucinus) one day, one of the females named “Mona” had spit a seed onto my head. Following this example of biosynergy, when the seed fell from my head and I dashed to pick it up with a leaf, I unknowingly was cooperating with Mona in dispersing the seed and helping the ecosystem we were both in grow. Or, rather, would have had I actually placed the seed somewhere it could grow instead of in a plastic vial to bring home with me as a souvenir. Oops.

Overall, Rose makes some significant points: without any primate biosynergy and our interspecies bonding, we won’t be able to truly understand the role primates play within their environment, and without the environment, we won’t have anything to study, much less a large part of ourselves.

 

References

Chan, B.P.L., Fellowes, J.R., Geissmann, T. and Zhang, J. (eds.). (2005). Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan for the Hainan Gibbon – VERSION I (Last Updated November 2005). Kadoorie Farm & Botanic Garden Technical Report No. 3. KFBG, Hong Kong SAR, iii + 33 pp.

Rose AL (2011). Bonding, biophilia, biosynergy, and the future of primates in the wild. American journal of primatology PMID: 20954251

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Gratitude. I wrote about it a few weeks ago from my human primate perspective, but let’s look at it through a non-human primate perspective as the second part of the gratitude perspective.

According to the Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, it’s defined as “the state of being grateful: thankfulness.” Although it may be considered anthropomorphic to suggest primates experience gratitude, there is an alternative for this idea in primatology. In evolutionary theory, there is a similar idea given by Trivers (1971) as reciprocal altruism, sometimes referred to as reciprocity; a performed behavior that benefits the recipient at the cost of the actor wherein the transaction is later repeated with the original recipient repeating the behavior at its own cost for the benefit of the original actor.

There are multiple instances that come to mind when reciprocity is concerned in primatology. There are alarm calls, an act that draws the attention on the actor after it spots the item of which merits alarm. Additionally, there are instances of resource sharing (giving food at the expense of one’s self when a potential threat is not being able to find food later), defensive strategies, and grooming as a form of social maintenance.

Among some of these examples, one in particular that I think illustrates the idea well is a food resource experiment performed with captive tufted capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella) as displayed here from YouTube up until the 2:05 mark (with narration from Sir David Attenborough):

From what I was able to see, there were originally 5 hazelnuts in the jar. Vulcan is the capuchin which had the flint rock and on the other side, Virgil was the one with the hazelnuts.  After Vulcan gave the flint to Virgil to cut the top open, he then handed Vulcan 3 of the 5 hazelnuts from the jar.

To me, the point worth noting here is that the researchers gave the capuchins an odd number of nuts—forcing one individual to take more than the other did. Moreover, I think it’s also impressive that Virgil gave more to Vulcan, who performed less work, at the expense of losing out on a potential food resource.

Because this is a short clip from a documentary, it’s difficult to know whether or not these behaviors were reciprocated in the actual study if Vulcan was given the jar of hazelnuts and Virgil was given the stone or if this behavior is commonplace in captive versus wild tufted capuchins, but it does beg the question:

In this circumstance, was Virgil perhaps acting out a type of behavior similar to gratitude for the stone by offering the lion’s share of hazelnuts?


Resources

Trivers, R.L. (1971). The evolution of reciprocal altruism. Quart. Rev. Biol. 46: 35-57.

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Japanese macaques (Macaca fuscata) in Monkey Mountain, Inuyama, Japan. Taken by a personal friend on her trip a few years back. (Photo by: R. Sim)

Hey hey hey, y’all. Monkey Day 2010 is here at last. While I intend to make something like this an annual tradition provided I’m still running this blog, it will hopefully also be a special edition for Four Stone Hearth as well. The Fourth Stone Hearth is a blog carnival that specializes in anthropology in the widest (American) sense of that word. Here, anthropology is the study of humankind, throughout all times and places, focusing primarily on four lines of research: archaeology, sociocultural anthropology, bio-physical anthropology, and linguistic anthropology. I’ll do my best to make it as inclusive as possible with what I’m given to accommodate for all four branches so everyone can get something out of today’s most wonderful time of the year. That said, there’s monkey business to get done, so let’s get to it:

First up, we’ve got Krystal at Anthropology in Practice with a post on “The Evolutionary Roots of Talking with Our Hands.” The article does a really great job of examining gestures within language acquisition and examines it through an evolutionary perspective of our primate ancestors such as siamangs, captive gorillas, chimpanzees, and orangutans. She also posted a really great video of the famous bonobo at the Great Ape Trust, Kanzi, working with a lexigram as an example of communicating with gestures.

Speaking of field work, this was taken by me during my favorite field work moment at La Suerte Biological Field Station in Costa Rica when this capuchin (Cebus capucinus) spat out the seed in her mouth on top of my head. Love. (Photo by: A.V.S.)

New blogger to the scene, Atelid, over at The Primate Chronicles has some pretty great articles for people to look at. One specifically written for today’s special issue, “I can see you, but I can hear you better: a little known fact about Tarsiers,” one of the (in my opinion) most underrated and unappreciated prosimians. She also wrote about some of her favorite field work moments and gave a great example for what it’s like to have some of the best positive experiences during field work in her “My Top 5 Fieldwork Moments.”

As always, Raymond Ho, FCD, or The Prancing Papio, has some insight into a very timely discovery to science with Another addition to the Fork-marked lemur species? Raymond does a great job of explaining the details about this new information and what to make of it in the context of the information we have currently.

Over at her blog, Barbara J. King writes about The Cognitive Watershed and Nut-Cracking Monkey Pushback wherein she explains one of the finer (and, in my personal opinion, coolest) aspects of primatology, nut-cracking, and uses bearded capuchin monkeys (Cebus libidosus) to exemplify these foraging techniques. Pretty timely as the holidays approach, eh?

DNApes has also got a fantastic article that’s been hitting the news recently about Monitoring the Health of Endangered, Wild Chimpanzees. I’m particularly interested in disease ecology in primates, so this article was a special treat for me given that it looks at the potential for retroviral diseases in chimpanzees and the risks posed to hunters as a result.

Speaking of an "elak apa," this is another picture I took while studying in Costa Rica. This is a (obviously) male mantled howler monkey (Alouatta palliata). (Photo by: A.V.S.)

Have you ever been curious about how to say “Bad Monkey” in a language other than your own? Well, here’s your chance! A clever great ape managed to figure out how to say it in ways from Braille, British Sign Language, Semaphore, and everything else you could imagine.

Finally, I think Kevin at the Creativity Well sums up Monkey Day best of all with his post, “Unleashing my inner monkey“–I’ll let you read that one on your own because I think it does a great job of marrying both personal life aspects (even for those who aren’t primatologists) with one’s primate self.

The next round of Four Stone Hearth (#109) will be hosted at Testimony of the Spade. If you’re interested, send Magnus or the always-lovely, Afarensis your articles or nominate some of your fellow Anthropoblogging peers. This week was a special issue dedicated towards primates, but next week will be returning to the usual format.

As far as Serious Monkey Business goes–in the near future, expect some articles on the ethics of habituation from a biocentric perspective, macaques, and also looking at primatology from a Mauss-ian perspective. Until then, Happy Monkey Day, everybody!

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The U.S. recently held its “midterm elections” in which many states (especially my own) had a massive shift in political power.  Given the climate towards environmental issues is likely to change as a result (especially in the House of Representatives), I figured I would give some light to two bills worth noting:  the Captive Primate Safety Act and the Great Ape Protection Act of 2010.


Captive Primate Safety Act

The Captive Primate Safety Act (H.R. 80/1329) serves as an amendment to the Lacey Act (one of the founding legislations for environmental conservation law in America back in 1900) and as a response to the effects of the pet trade on natural wildlife populations and because of cases wherein captive primates assault and cause physical harm to their “owners.”   Under this law, the following would be considered unlawful:

[Makes it] unlawful for a person to import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire, or purchase a live animal of any prohibited wildlife species in interstate or foreign commerce (i.e., for pet trade purposes). Sets forth exceptions to such prohibition, including, under certain conditions, for: (1) transporting a nonhuman primate to or from a veterinarian; (2) transporting a nonhuman primate to a legally designated caregiver as a result of the death of the preceding owner; and (3) transporting a single primate of the genus Cebus that was obtained from and trained by a charitable organization to assist a permanently disabled individual with a severe mobility impairment. Sets forth civil and criminal penalties for violations of the requirements of this Act.

This bill is making future actions of any sort of pet ownership illegal as opposed to taking immediate effect and affecting all current primate pet owners.  Although I personally do not condone primates as pets (or “monkids”), logistically and economically, this is a preferable action.

Monkid

An example of a pet capuchin under captive settings. Image from Disinfo.com.

I say this not because I believe that current pet owners should be able to keep their primates, but because it would be a very quick and very momentous burden upon non-profit primate sanctuaries which would be the new likely caretakers. Most of these facilities give sources of income mostly to the primates they care for and often have little to offer to workers. With an increase in primates from the potential 15,000 pet primates that would have to be surrendered from immediate response, this would increase the financial strain of these organizations significantly and potentially bankrupt them, resulting in a strain for primate welfare in order to meet demand.

Additionally, I find it interesting that a “legally designated caregiver” is one of the exceptions, but isn’t exactly clearly defined. Is the designated caregiver required to be a primate caretaker in so much as someone trained to work with primates? Or can it be just an average individual who inherited the captive primate from a family friend?


Great Ape Protection Act of 2010

The Great Ape Protection Act of 2010 (S. 3694) is a new bill that was introduced to the Senate Environment and Public Works in August of 2010. A similar act was introduced in the House of Representatives in 2009, but has largely been inactive for some time now, much like the Captive Primate Safety Act.

This bill tends to focus more on the ethical matters of animal research when considering the great apes and their likenesses to human primates. This act would prohibit the following from occurring:

(1)    conducting invasive research on great apes; (2) knowingly breeding, possessing, renting, loaning, donating, purchasing, selling, housing, maintaining, leasing, borrowing, transporting, moving, delivering, or receiving a great ape for the purpose of conducting such research; or (3) using federal funds to conduct such research. Defines “invasive research” as research that may cause death, bodily injury, pain, distress, fear, injury, or trauma to great apes, including drug testing or exposure to a substance that may be detrimental to the ape’s health or psychological well-being. Requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) and other appropriate federal authorities to provide for the permanent retirement of all great apes that are owned or under the control of the federal government and that are being maintained in any facility for the purpose of breeding for, holding for, or conducting invasive research. Sets forth civil penalties for violations of this Act.

It is worth noting here that the distinction is made for invasive research as opposed to behavioral—which is typically non-invasive. Unlike the Captive Primate Safety Act, I expect this one to be challenged for a few reasons:

One, the United States happens to have the largest body of research on chimpanzees with an estimated 1,300 specimens within labs across the country. While the argument against using chimpanzees in invasive, biomedical research is because of sympathizing over a majority of shared genetics and the advanced cognition and social skills (among many other reasons), this could also be perceived as a reason for research.  For example, chimpanzees are used in HIV/AIDS biomedical research because they are the natural host of the virus. In addition to new information recently coming to light about chimpanzees also suffering from AIDS-like symptoms in the wild, this certainly makes chimpanzees an attractive model for examining the virus further.

Two, although I personally lean on the side of banning invasive, captive research on great apes, I do wonder about the potential for another zoonotic disease event to occur which might mandate the use of invasive research to be able to save human (and non-human primate) lives.

Chimpanzee Enclosure

The chimpanzee enclosure at the Primate Foundation of Arizona. Taken from the Laboratory Primate Newsletter, vol. 41, no. 4, Oct. 2002.

However, I will say this: if we would ban invasive primate research, it certainly would save a pretty penny. Chimpanzees are very expensive to keep in captivity because of their extended life histories, cage-size requirements (given that chimpanzees can average 5’6″, they need large cages), and expensive omnivorous diet.

Outside of these challenges, I’m suspicious by the decision to have the Secretary of Health and Human Services among other, non-identified “appropriate federal authorities” make decisions along these lines. At the risk of generalizing and being presumptuous here, I’m actually curious to know how many of these individuals are aware of the differences between the great apes and monkeys. Certainly, this would mean possible good news for primatologists (consulting jobs! Hurrah!), I’m not so sure I feel as if the HHS ought to be the department in charge of such an action. Why not the Department of Wildlife Services? I realize we’re unable to return these primates to their natural habitat, but it seems like a decision made more on the side of biomedical research as opposed to actual primate welfare.


The Future?

There is one significant difference about these two bills that blows my mind: the contrast in consequence for violation. In the Captive Primate Safety Act, if one violates, they could potentially receive either civil penalties or criminal penalties. Whereas, in the Great Ape Protection Act, one who is in violation only receives civil penalties. I’m not sure where the disparity comes into play here, but it would be beneficial for the Great Ape Protection Act to readjust the repercussions of violation as it possibly suggests invasive research and the harm thereof is less significant than the potential neglect or ignorance of primate welfare overall. But hey, maybe I’m wrong.

Regardless, primates are finally starting to get the legal recognition they deserve. Although it remains to be seen if any of these bills will become a law, especially in the recent change in political structure, I have hopes that we’re starting to get onto the right track with consideration to wildlife conservation law and I hope that this can be a continued trend for the future of primates everywhere.

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Admittedly, I’ve been a little too pre-occupied with other things than blogging right now. I found out a few weeks ago I’d be losing my position at the primate library I work at because we lost a major grant that sustained our department, so I’ve been busy with trying to find a job and getting ready to move into a new apartment. That said, I don’t have anything extremely insightful for anyone and probably won’t until classes get started up again in September. Until then, enjoy!

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Costa Rica and Me.

In a little less than a month, I’ll be leaving to go to the sunny, blissful paradise of Costa Rica, quite literally, almost  a tourist nation with the majority of its revenue coming from tourism. It makes sense, seeing as Costa Rica is a fairly safe country.  There are many rankings for which (considering only Latin America, at least,) Costa Rica takes the gold, most specifically: Happy Planet Index in 2009 which also took the first worldwide, Environmental Performance in 2008, Press Freedom and Democracy in 2007, Travel and Tourism Competitiveness in 2008, and Life Satisfaction Index (2006-2007) in 2008. So with the compilation of all those firsts over a relatively short amount of time, I can deduce that if those rankings are worth any of their salt: the Costa Ricans are a pretty happy little tourist country with great environmental standards.

Sounds like my kind of country. Even moreso when you consider there are primates that live in Costa Rica, which will be the purpose of my visit. I am going through the Maderas Rainforest Conservancy at the La Suerte Biological Field Station in order to study primate behavioral ecology for one whole glorious month. And I could not be more excited.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous: I’ll be meeting people from all over the country that I’ve never met before, I’ll be living in conditions I’m extremely not used to, I won’t be able to have immediate contact with friends and family, and I’ll have to get used to not being able to access the internet on a whim. There will be bees and snakes, and I will potentially ruin many pairs of underwear and pants as a result. But at the same time, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thrilled to be attempting those things.

The most anxious part of the experience is creating my own research. I would really like it if I could come out and be able to publish something–something that I can contribute to the world’s knowledge. Not to mention, use it to give my future career a jumpstart and have even more reason for grad schools to select me as their student. But as it stands, I’m having an exceptionally hard time trying to think of anything original, or at least, maybe even worthwhile? Whenever I come up with a topic, I immediately rush to Google Scholar and–bam. Already done, or at least variations thereof.

Another factor to consider is that there are only three species of primates (IUCN 2007) living in the area I’ll be in. There are Mantled Howler monkeys (Allouatta palliata), White-Faced Capuchins (Cebus capucinus), and Geoffroyi’s Spider monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi). This isn’t a bad thing because it narrows down the literature of the species I have to examine, but it does make it a little harder considering there are only three and I don’t know the visibility/commonality of any of them in that given population area.

Regardless, until then, I will be anxiously awaiting my experience with the monkeys.


References
IUCN, SSC, Primate Specialist Group.  (April 2007).  Primates of Costa Rica.  http://www.primate-sg.org/costa.rica.spp.htm.

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