Archive for the ‘Papionins’ Category

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.org By now, I know of few people who haven’t seen the movie, Mean Girls. But in case you haven’t, here’s what you should know about it: the story is essentially an explanation of social cliques and aggressive teenage girl behavior. As a study recently published in Behavioral Ecology suggests, this agonistic behavior between females in cliques is not exclusive to human primates, but is found in our non-human primate kin as well.

Over 18 months and 1027 interactions, Huchard and Cowlishaw (2011) discovered a correlation between sexually receptive female baboons and female-female aggression in groups. In female baboons, sexual receptiveness is typically a period in which individuals are estrous, or “in heat.” A way in which a female can display this information is through sexual swellings, or a swelling of the perineal skin, which indicates ovulation. Additionally, females with wider sexual swellings are perceived as “sexy,” as they attained sexual maturity earlier and generally have more offspring that survive (Domb and Pagel 2001).

A female baboon in estrus--the baboon version of Regina George? (Photo from: WikiMedia Commons)

With that in mind, enter female-female competition. Female-female competition is thought to occur more often under circumstances where resources for success in reproductive factors might be limited: for example, yielded access to food resources inhibits successful gestation or production of milk or helpful mates that provide more access to resources through social rank.

In the study performed by Huchard and Cowlishaw, sexual receptiveness was perceived to be the driver of aggressive behaviors as sexually receptive females received the most aggression, while lactating mothers received the least. It is thought this might be a tactic to delay conception; thus, females who have already conceived or have offspring would be more likely to receive access to resources and thereof prevents competition. Females who eat less (or would have limited access to food resources) also tend to have less reproductive success (Altmann and Alberts 2003). In addition, it is also possible by inflicting the cost of aggression onto sexually receptive females, the stress may make it more difficult to conceive or support a pregnancy (Beehner et al. 2006). Therefore, by being aggressive to these sexually receptive females, pregnant females or females who have offspring are conserving their resources and limiting the competition.

While no reports of any baboons getting thrown in front of buses have been reported yet, if it does happen—be sure to check the sexual swelling for the baboon version of Regina George.


Altmann, J. & Alberts, S.C. (2003). Intraspecific variability in fertility and offpsring survival in a non-human primate: behavioral control of ecological and social sources. In: Wachter KW, Bulatao RA, editors. Offspring: human fertility behavior in a biodemographic perspective. Washington (DC): National Academy Press; p. 140-169.

Beehner, J.C., Nguyen, N., Wango, E.O., Alberts, S.C., & Altmann, J. (2006). The endocrinology of pregnancy and fetal loss in wild baboons. Hormones and Behav, 49: 688-699.

Domb, L.G. & Pagel, M. (2001). Sexual swellings advertise female quality in wild baboons. Nature, 410: 204-206.

Huchard, E., & Cowlishaw, G. (2011). Female-female aggression around mating: an extra cost of sociality in a multimale primate society Behavioral Ecology DOI: 10.1093/beheco/arr083


Read Full Post »

The yellow baboon orphan with the orphaned bush baby (Photo by: AP Photo)

At first, it sounds like the start of a terrible joke. (“An orphaned baboon and orphaned bush baby are together and …”) But surprisingly–not the case. At an animal orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya, a pairing of an orphaned female yellow baboon and orphaned bush baby have been found in each other’s company.

When you consider the characteristics of the two primates, the pairing is even more bizarre: bush babies (also known as galagos) are nocturnal and arboreal, whereas, baboons are diurnal and terrestrial. Additionally, yellow baboons live in much larger social systems compared to the bush baby, which stays in a small group of its mother and other siblings. For both, however, socializing is critical at young ages (as tends to be the case in all primate species) as that is how infants learn important social characteristics in groups. Given that the bush baby has a yellow baboon as a “parent,” it will be interesting to see what kind of social characteristics it manages to display in the future.

Even more surprising is that bush babies have, at times, been prey for yellow baboons (Hausfater 1976).  This suggests that later on, the twosome will have to be divided at some point. But, until then, we have the option of seeing a unique case of an animal odd couple.

More on this story can be found here.


Hausfater, G. (1976). Predatory behavior of yellow baboons. Behaviour, 56(1/2): 44-68.

Read Full Post »

“Marla tells me how in the wild you don’t see old animals because as soon as they age, animals die. If they get sick or slow down, something stronger kills them. Animals aren’t meant to get old. Marla lies down on her bed and undoes the tie on her bathrobe, and says our culture has made death something wrong. Old animals should be an unnatural exception. Freaks.” – Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

Death. Every philosopher has an opinion on it and very little do we know of it. I’m not talking about the situations where some young adult drinks themselves into alcohol poisoning and then gets revived—I’m talking about biting the dust, pushing up daisies, becoming a root inspector, kicking the bucket, taking a dirt nap, or whatever euphemism you fancy.

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.org We all know primates die; no one argues that much. But there is also significant evidence showing primates experience an awareness and emotional response to death as well.

Koko and All Ball (Photo by: Koko.org)

Most famously, there is the example of Koko the western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) experiencing mourning symptoms after her pet kitten, All Ball, escaped from its cage and was hit by a car.  Francine Patterson, Koko’s caretaker, reported that she believed Koko had made sounds similar to human sobbing and communicating her distress through American Sign Language with signs such as “Bad-sad-bad” and “Frown-cry-frown-sad” (Patterson 1987).

In a recently published article for the American Journal of Primatology, James Anderson (2010) suggests context has a significant part in how primates respond to death as well. Evidence from deaths of individual group members suggest different reactions; mortality events from causes such as predation versus illness and even characteristics like age, sex, and social status may seem to play a role in these responses.

A female chimpanzee with mummified infant on her back. (Photo by: D. Biro)

Compared to the situation with Koko, a captive gorilla; wild primates have also been recently recorded to display some mourning symptoms as well. For mothers with young infants that die, reactions can tend to have longer mourning symptoms. For example, two chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes verus) mothers were found to transport their deceased infants for a prolonged period of time—68 and 19 days after death in the respective cases (Biro et al. 2010). In these situations, although the infants mummified, the mothers still treated them as living entities—swatting insects away and grooming them.

Morbidity events (which can become later mortality events) may draw emotional reactions from group members as well. Unlike chimpanzees, little evidence of compassion for group members is displayed in wild gelada baboons (Theropithecus gelada) (Fashing et al. 2010). In a situation where a mother (Tesla) was succumbing to a parasitic infection, conspecifics only peered back once at her and her infant (Tussock, who died a day later) before leaving the plateau to search for food. Days before her death, female group members allomothered Tussock as Tesla slowly trailed behind the group. It is unclear why these same females did not respond to the infant upon returning to the plateau; though, perhaps something to do with the costs of infants to females and can be burdensome to take on caring for an infant which is not biologically hers.

While it remains to be seen how much and in what specific circumstances the context and characteristics affect reaction, I know I’ll be looking forward to further research on this subject and the development of thanatological primatology, even if the deceased primates are “old, unnatural freaks.”


Anderson, J.R. (2010). A primatological perspective on death. American Journal of Primatology PMID: 21197638

Biro, D., Humle, T., Koops, K., Sousa, C., Hayashi, M., & Matsuzawa, T. (2010). Chimpanzee mothers at Bossou, Guinea carry the mummified remains of their dead infants. Current Biology, 20(8), R351-R352. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2010.02.031

Fashing, P.J., Nguyen, N., Barry, T.S., Goodale, C.B., Burke, R.J., Jones, S.C., Kerby, J.T., Lee, L.M., Nurmi, N.O., Venkataraman V.V. (2010). Death among geladas (Theropithecus gelada): a broader perspective on mummified infants and primate thanatology. American Journal of Primatology PMID: 21136522

Patterson, F. (1987). Koko’s Kitten. Scholastic, Inc. ISBN 0-590-44425-5

Read Full Post »

If there were one subject that I were to not write about and feel the most regret over not doing so, it would be the role of feminism within primatology.

It is absolutely unthinkable to consider what primatology would be like without the work and contributions of female scientists such as Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, Birutė Galdikas, Jeanne Altmann, Linda Fedigan, Barbara Smuts, Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, Marina Cords, Tara Stoinski, Susan Alberts, Anne Pusey, Alison Jolly, and Deborah Fouts–I could honestly go on and spew about at least a hundred names of female primatologists as this is one of the few fields which women have contributed from early on, and thus, one of the reasons why primatology is the strong, developed field it is today.

For myself, personally, I am influenced by two phenomenal women primatologists: Karen Strier and Katherine MacKinnon. Both of these women have individually touched my experience in primatology and shaped me into who and what I intend to do with my life today.


The Female Scholars Role

Aside from the female primatologists, female perspective has also shaped a significant niche within the academic subject. One might think the role of female scientists in primatology is based on the potential for females to “correct” the findings from male scientists to fit a female perspective paradigm, but this could not be farther from the truth (Sperling 1991). The role of women in primatology is beyond that of a grader, women have been able to produce information to advance the field in such instances as Goodall’s famous redefinition of what it means to be human (because of primate tool use) to Joan Silk’s debate over relevant terminology such as “friendship” (because of affiliative social behaviors between baboons) to Patricia Wright’s discovery of the golden bamboo lemur. It’s undeniable at this point that females have had and will continue to have a significant role in shaping, constructing, and defining what primatology is and will become as an academic field.

So, if that’s the case, then why is it important to consider the paradigm of feminism within primatology? According to Schiebinger (2000), in the 1960’s, women received hardly any of the granted Ph.D.s in primatology compared to modern day, where women are now roughly 78% of primatology Ph.D.s granted in a given year. As a result, critiquing the perspectives of male-dominated theories and stereotypes became re-examined along with the role of female primates within a given social structure.  Female primate literature began to take off, giving rise to ideas such as female mate choice which can undermine male mate choice and female dominance hierarchy such as in Japanese macaques (Primates in Perspective 479, 487).

But with this rise of female scientists came examination at a condescending cost.


Women and “Cute”

As the numbers of women in primatology with Ph.D.s increased, the examination of why primatology was such a female “friendly” field followed.  One of the more offensive, demeaning, and grossly untrue (from this writer’s perspective) theories was of the “Big Brown Eyes” Hypothesis.  In this, it was assumed that women studied primates to work with the cutesy-wutsy little animulls with which they could take care of and hug forever and ever. As Fedigan (1994) points out, anyone who has studied primates beyond prosimians (and even then as slow lorises could be harmful) would know that primates are far from cute–they can be unpredictable, vicious, and downright nasty.

Oh, how cute--I bet they'd look even cuter with those canines in your flesh!

Oh, how cute--I bet they'd look even cuter with those canines in your flesh!

Speaking as someone who has had first-hand interactions with primates: we, especially in the western world where we generally don’t have living extant primates (e.g. Canada and United States of America), we don’t have the first hand knowledge of what primates are really like. For instance, we typically don’t experience our crops getting raided by primates which might fight back against a protective farmer whose livelihood depends on the crops.

I’d also like to echo SpiderMonkeyTales‘ sentiments on this theory as someone else who has done field work (and here, I speak on my own behalf, but I’d like to think this is maybe a shared thought): there is nothing that cute that can get me to willingly visit the Costa Rican rainforest during the rainy season, get eaten alive by mosquitoes (and potentially risk infectious diseases), awful sunburn, upset stomach and other travel sicknesses, chasing after barely visible subjects, getting literally shit on and covered in maybe-but-not-necessarily-literal shit, visit potentially war-torn countries, potentially damaging important social relationships, investing tons of money into travel, food, gear, and supplies.

Field work is “fucking hard” on every level imaginable: mentally, physically, and emotionally, as I’ve had two seasoned veterans admit to me. And suggesting we’re doing it just to see something cute? Check that mentality at the door, please.


Primatology: why should we care about feminism and why a female primate’s work is never going to be done.

Although I’ve stated the contributions from female primatologists in the subject, there is still the issue of why feminism is critical to science and primatology. If it isn’t obvious by the fact that women compose at least half of the population (and therefore have an intrinsic right to a voice which concerns their heritage and environment), here’s why: women’s contribution to science can enhance the study, find new perspectives worth examining (or, because this is Science and Science need not always be new! exciting! or supported! to be worthwhile, as “failures” are worth examining as well), and  shape the discipline, theoretical framework, and questions we ask to get the knowledge we actively seek.

Furthermore, as we are around half of the population, expanded research into feminist perspectives for scientific queries could enhance the “gendered dimensions of life that conventional categories of analysis ignore” (Fedigan 1997).  Even if we are unable to specifically determine how non-human primates identify in terms of gender or sex, this absolutely does not mean we should be limiting our human primate scientific perspectives in terms of only male and female, but explore what other paradigms outside of the traditional perspective.

While it is true primatology offers strong role models for women in the aforementioned primatologists at the beginning of this post, I would be sorely remiss if I did not believe that who we can offer is not necessarily indicative of what we can offer. Primatology is a field that still can be hard to break into, however, if one is willing to work hard, there is always work to be done.



Fedigan, L.M.  (1994).  Science and the successful female: why there are so many women primatologists.  American Anthropologist, 96(3), 529-540.  http://www.jstor.org/stable/682298

Fedigan, L.M.  (1997).  Is primatology a female science? Women in Human Evolution.  L. Hager (ed.) Routledge Press, 56-75.  http://people.ucalgary.ca/~fedigan/Fedigan%201997b.pdf

Primates in Perspective, 2nd Edition.  Edited by C.J. Campbell, A. Fuentes, K.C. MacKinnon, M. Panger, S.K. Bearder, and Strumpf R.M.  Oxford University Press, NY, 2011.

Schiebinger, L.  (2000).  Has Feminism Changed Science? Signs, 25(4), 1171-1175.  http://www.jstor.org/stable/3175507

Sperling, S.  (1991).  Baboons with Briefcases: Feminism, Functionalism, and Sociobiology in the Evolution of Primate Gender.  Signs, 17(1), 1-27.  http://courses.csusm.edu/hist460ae/genderaniamls.pdf

Read Full Post »

It is no secret to anyone in primatology that there are certain terminologies to avoid when explaining behavior. There are terms that evoke a anthropomorphized rhetoric when used and tend to bring questions into the observer and the behavior in question. One of those terms that have been argued for years now is the “F-word”–no, not fudge–friendship.

In an article published in Current Biology, Joan Silk and her colleagues have discovered that “friendship” has an added value aside from affiliative (and less stressful) interactions in female baboons: longer lives and more surviving offspring. And this isn’t particularly surprising: affiliative behaviors such as grooming tends to remove less insects which can carry diseases, individuals are more likely to look after one another and potentially allomother their offspring to allow the mother to forage and produce more milk as well. Also mentioned in the article is the belief that this contributes to fitness by resting further away from other animals, thus, serving as protection from predator.

Moreover, “friendship” also plays a role when these guys attempt to forage in other manners: carjacking.

Regardless, I’m not sure entirely how I feel about the term; I understand that it does have some anthropomorphic meaning–but when placed in the context of survival and evolution with the evidence produced by Silk and colleagues, I can’t particularly think of a better word to describe the behavior (though, this may be because I’m a naive, young undergraduate.) What do you think? Is “friendship” too anthropomorphic? Or does it have validity?

Joan B. Silk, Jacinta C. Beehner, Thore J. Bergman, Catherine Crockford, Anne L. Engh, Liza R. Moscovice, Roman M. Wittig, Robert M. Seyfarth, and Dorothy L. Cheney. Strong and Consistent Social Bonds Enhance the Longevity of Female Baboons. Current Biology, July 1, 2010 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2010.05.067

Read Full Post »

I recently finished off my Primate Conservation course and it really opened my eyes a lot. I’m really, really grateful for having the ability to have taken that class and for the professor for teaching that class. She’s a fantastic primatologist and someone I really admire for all she’s accomplished. As a result, I find it fitting to write about captive breeding today because I think it’s a subject worth considering as a conservation method for population management, at the very least.

It’s not uncommon for a lot of captive breeding programs to fail miserably when it comes to primates; they’re very expensive to maintain (especially as you go towards the greater apes), they’re social animals, and because we can’t understand some of the communication methods primates use, we can’t fully tend to their needs. Moreover, captive breeding programs that exist to eventually release subjects into the wild also have to be careful about domestication, genetic inbreeding, potential disease transmission, and even the politics of the country of habitat they intend to release individuals back into as to avoid possible slaughter for hungry troops if there’s a war going on. And most importantly: captive breeding staff must be careful to not entirely domesticate and desensitize the individuals from not being able to recognize predators (which includes humans).

Another consideration is the captive environment itself and how it contributes to the potential setback of captive breeding programs.  In strictly captive settings where the primates are kept in a caged or enclosed environment, the potential for disease transmission increases as there are less places to avoid the ill individual. In a study performed by Willete et al. (2007) in a captive setting, rhesus macaques who were injected with lipopolysaccharides were discovered to have a strong leukocyte response (which isn’t surprising, since they act as endotoxins and call for a strong immune response). Also, in this study (and here’s where it’s pertinent to captive breeding programs), they measured the cortisol levels of the macaques at certain points; the one that raised the highest cortisol was when they used the human-intruder paradigm.

Why is that significant? Because the human-intruder paradigm may mirror zoo-goers in a given day. Particularly when its crowds of people and they all may not be gearing their attention towards the primates in question. So if there’s even more people rather than just the one, maybe it’s possible that the increased cortisol can limit reproductive abilities. But that’s just a postulate and may not be applicable to all primates; some may even like the crowds because it gives them something to look at–I’ve seen this with chimpanzees watching the crowds at the Henry Vilas Zoo here.

So my jury is still out on zoos as an effective captive breeding program (sure, it works with golden lion tamarins, but I’m not sure how well it might work out with those primates with slower life histories who are more specialized; if there are any other success stories, I’d love to hear them though!). But, I do think there’s something with semi-captive breeding programs, specifically when they’re in the country of origin.

Specifically, I am thinking of the Peignot et al. (2008) study on the first successful translocation of mandrills in Gabon.  In a released group of 36 captive-bred mandrills who were raised in a semi-captive environment, the mortality rate of the first year was 33% with infants being the most affected individuals.  However, in the second year, the number decreased to 4%.  From what I understood, Peignot et al. attributes this to the mandrills becoming more acclimated to their new environment and becoming accustomed to food availability during seasonal shifts; additionally, the provisioning was eventually reduced and taken away.

So why the success? I think it a lot of it contributes to the fact that mandrills are extremely plastic: they’re opportunistic omnivores and will generally eat anything. However, I’m willing to bet that the consideration to where and how these individuals were raised also plays a part. For instance, these mandrills were raised in semi-captive conditions as opposed to cages or enclosures which allowed for more foraging, more exploration of the environment, and they were able to acclimate to both the temperature and environment since they were raised in the CIMRF (Centre International de Recherches Médicales de Franceville) in Gabon, where they were translocated as well. And because they didn’t have to go through the stressor of being placed on a plane and being shipped to a different country or anything else that may contribute such as that, the program saved themselves a pretty penny and were able to reroute the funds elsewhere.

So, I’m still not sold on the fact that captive breeding is a waste of time and resources. I think there’s legitimacy to the idea that captive breeding can contribute to enhancing populations; I just think there needs to be more considerations given pre-translocation/release to ensure that the released population can be viable.




Peignot, P., Charpentier, M.J.E., Bout, N., Bourry, O., Massima, U., Dosimont, O., Terramorsi, R., & Wickings, E.J.  (2008).  Learning from the first release project of captive-bred mandrills (Mandrillus sphinx) in GabonOryx, 42(1), 122-131.

Willete, A.A., Lubach, G.R., & Coe, C.L.  (2007).  Environmental context differentially affects behavioral, leukocyte, cortisol, and interleukin-6 responses to low doses of endotoxin in the rhesus monkeyBrain, Behavior, and Immunity, 21(6), 807-815.

Read Full Post »

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about captive breeding programs. Mostly because I’m working with this topic for my Primate Conservation course’s final paper, but also because my school’s Undergraduate Zoological Society’s annual trip was to the Milwaukee Zoo this year for a behind the scenes tour. The Milwaukee Zoo also has a great captive breeding program for some very endangered species, including bonobos.  I got some great pictures of behind-the-scenes stuff, but what I was most interested in was the primates.

The Milwaukee Zoo has an amazing amount of primates–and they look fantastic. As someone that works closely with primates in a captive setting (albeit, only for several months now), I couldn’t see any marks of self-injurious behaviors or any stereotypical behaviors. Not to mention, this zoo has a no-flash policy so as to not scare off any of the animals.  Above all else, I was impressed at the enclosures: they weren’t as grand as the London Zoo’s but they did have adequate amounts of natural simulation AND enrichment available for the primates, along with places to hide in case the primates decide that they’re done entertaining the public for awhile. While I believe most zoos should be considering making ecosystem-based enclosures where the animals have the ability to run freely or hide if distressed, I realize this is not possible given economic reasons and also the feasibility of given animals (i.e.: I’m not sure if I believe, based on the zoonoses and some behavioral patterns that are possible between non-human primates and human primates, that this should be considered for great apes, lesser apes, or maybe even old world monkeys.)

Regardless, I’m still impressed with the Milwaukee Zoo. Without keeping you waiting, here are the (good) pictures I’ve managed to take while there.  More from my trip can be found here.


A mandrill at the Milwaukee Zoo in the Primate exhibit.


Bonobos at the Milwaukee Zoo in the Primate exhibit. Note the female's sexual swelling!

Japanese macaques

Japanese macaques at the Milwaukee Zoo on the "Macaque Island." This picture was taken after a fight between two individuals (I couldn't get there fast enough, but I certainly heard it from a distance). Don't think there was any physical fight, but one male was left to pick at his fur by himself while everyone else groomed each other.

 All in all, I was very impressed and really liked the primate exhibits.  Also of note: the Milwaukee Zoo also has a bushbaby, however, because of a glaucoma in its right eye, the eye had to be removed so I avoided getting a picture of that for the sake of respect. Definitely worth visiting at some point in your life!

Read Full Post »