Archive for the ‘Hylobates’ Category

I didn’t understand the value of hunting until I was 10 years old. I never had an opinion on it either way, but I could never understand why someone would just want to go out and kill an animal. It wasn’t until I was watching my dad, uncle, and cousins sit on their porch and spy a white-tailed deer in the backyard. Where we live, these deer are common. Not exactly habituated, but it’s common practice in more rural areas to provision them with salt licks and feed; if nothing else, to get a good look at them while you’re looking outside and basking in the northern Midwestern landscape.

On this particular night in late-autumn, celebrating my birthday with my cousin, they had spotted a deer eating from the salt-lick. It was a male and he had a gorgeous set of antlers–I can’t recall how many points, but enough to make my uncle and cousin jump from their seats and slowly creep towards where they had a small gun stowed. Carefully, my uncle opened the door and a loud pop! sound later, the deer ran off. He had missed, but afterwords, I looked at my dad and asked, “Why’d he shoot the deer? It wasn’t eating his garden or anything.”

“The deer population this year is high; if we don’t hunt, they’ll cause a lot of trouble for us and themselves.” He stated, matter-of-factually. I didn’t understand what it meant at the time, as I dropped the subject in lieu of birthday cake, but as I grew older–I understood. Without hunting, the populations would rise to unsustainable levels; more deer would mean less available food when resources were already scarce in the winter months and potentially lead to more dangerous accidents for drivers, as my aunt and grandmother both experienced first-hand years later. But, at the time, I understood more why it would be dangerous for us–which later gave me enough curiosity to understand why it would be bad for “them.”

Yesterday, Dr. John C. Mitani of the University of Michigan wrote an opinion article on the endangerment and potential extinction of both lesser and great apes. In it, he brings up a multitude of reasons for saving great apes from behavioral quirks, the primate heritage, and drawing connections between human primates and non-human primates. He even points out that politicians in Congress have put aside party differences in being able to provide conservation aide for apes. It was well-written and provided a bevy of reasons in which people should consider taking action to provide great apes with the aide they require in order to maintain populations and mitigating anthropogenic effects.

While there is nothing I would contest against what Dr. Mitani says, it’s what he doesn’t say that’s most interesting to me (which, could also have been removed due to editing or other reasons–I’ve had my share of time in journalism and I understand that not everything written goes to print). And this is something I’ve noticed before when people talk about conservation and taking action.

A critically endangered Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) and a caretaker at Bukit Lawang (Photo from: WikiMedia Commons)

For me, before I had been given an education in conservation, to understand the importance of doing so was best expressed in a practical, utilitarian format–how conservation tactics (like hunting) provided benefits to both humans (in terms of safety) and wildlife populations (in terms of sustainability).

I believe it’s possible to foment interest in conservation by using the anthropogenic hook and then using primates as further bait to take action. Harcourt et al. (1986) discovered that knowledge about wildlife species was a critical factor in attitudes about wildlife. Furthermore, negative perceptions of conservation are driven through a lack of education in how it can affect both wildlife and humans (Fiallo and Jacobsen 1995). In knowing that we are also great apes and share a heritage, why are we apt to leave ourselves out of this equation? Particularly when helping ourselves is one of the best things we can do for our evolutionary lineage. Kofi Annon, Secretary General of the United Nations once wrote:

Saving great apes is about saving people. By conserving the great apes, we can protect the livelihoods of many people who rely on forests for food, clean water, and much else. Indeed, the fate of the great apes has both practical and symbolic implications for the ability of human beings to move towards a more sustainable future.

In addition to the effects helping humans can have on non-human primates, in turn, non-human primates have an effect on us. Recently, it was discovered seeds ingested and passed through orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus wurmbii) guts in addition to being spat out can remain viable and germinate (Nielsen et al. 2011). Given that orangutans can consume around 118 species of fruiting plant and a large day range, orangutans can disperse seeds throughout a great range in the Sumatran rain forest, potentially providing more future fruit trees for both human and wildlife consumption (Nielsen et al. 2011).

When written like that, the purpose for conservation changes: not only does conserving apes help the environment, but it helps others–including us. Humans nor great apes exist in a vacuum; we frequently co-exist and affect each other. But maybe that’s where the discomfort and hesitance in using a more utilitarian approach lies.

I understand the utilitarian format is not without potential problems: in approaching ape conservation from a “What can it do for us?” perspective, we can run the risk of focusing only on anthropogenic needs rather than the needs of both.

I also realize thinking about just ourselves is part of the issue. I’m not sure if I believe the trope that humans are inherently selfish and the like; and definitely, there is a sense of greed that needs to be addressed. But if we need to be taking action immediately, why aren’t we willing to combine the two more frequently when we talk about conservation if it means it will change perceptions and get people to act?

Regardless of thoughts on human influence, we are a part of ecosystems all over the world, for better or worse. I welcome any readers to share their thoughts on this subject.


Fiallo, E.A. & Jacobsen, S.K. (1995). Local communities and protected areas: attitudes of rural residents towards conservation and Machalilla National Park, Ecuador. Env Conserv, 22: 241-249.

Harcourt, A.H., Pennington, H., & Weber, A.W. (1986). Public attitudes to wildlife and conservation in the Third World. Oryx, 20: 152-154.

Nielsen, N.H., Jacobsen, M.W., Graham, L.L.L.B., Morrogh-Bernard, H.C., D’Arcy, L.J., & Harrison, M.E. (2011). Successful germination of seeds following through orangutan guts. J Trop Ecol, 27: 433-435.


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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.



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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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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