A guest-blog series: a primate project, Mexico

As of next Friday (25th April) I will be heading a project at Ecoparque el Fenix monkey sanctuary in Campeche, Mexico. As such, my small team will be presenting their experiences in ‘A world of Primates’ guest blog series.

THE PROJECT

We will be working closely with wild-born pet-raised spider monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi) who have histories within the exploitative illegal primate pet trade. The sanctuary is home to 21 spider monkeys, and as an non-profit organisation they rely on the kind donations of the public for all monkey food, veterinary care, and general husbandry. As with many range-country sanctuaries, some of the conditions are suboptimal as restricted resources do not permit all monkeys to live in large enriched and socially active enclosures. Some of the monkeys we will be working with are tied to trees, in single cages, or are free roaming within the parks boundaries. This project began last year when I conducted a focal observational behaviour study of all the spider monkeys at Ecoparque el Fenix, to assess their present welfare (data to be submitted for publication post thesis submission). Having returned to the UK and analysed the data, I  then prioritised a rehabilitation strategy for each monkey-who would benefit from increased intra-species socialization, who may regress in the face of social-integration but could benefit from enhanced enrichments, and who to prioritise for the building of new enclosures.

WHO ARE WE?

DAVE BULL- CONSTRUCTION davith Dave is a qualified and experienced carpenter from West Sussex. Experienced in building timber framed houses and roofing, Dave will be heading the construction team, where he will (along with the help of local volunteers) renovate the old, and construct the new primate enclosures.

ROBYN CAULES- RESEARCH ASSISTANT bam Behavioural data will be collected  throughout each phase of the project: The construction works, translocation between enclosures, and the formation of new social groups. Robyn will assist with the project by collecting behavioural data of the monkeys in a repeat study which we will later compare to the 2013 data to evaluate the progress of our rehabilitation plan.

JESS HOOPER– PROJECT COORDINATORme poster PSGB As well as coordinating this project alongside sanctuary staff, I will be working with Robyn within the comparative study and conducting a second study using Social Network Analysis (SNA) to monitor the progress, and ensure the well being, of each monkey within the newly formed social groups throughout each phase of social integration.

WHEN?

We hope to be blogging and tweeting personally every two weeks when we travel into the city for supplies-but don’t fret! The wonderful media volunteer Beth Nicklinson will be tweeting our work along with other primate facts on the Ecoparque el Fenix twitter page…so remember to follow both myself and the sanctuary!

HOW CAN YOU HELP?

It is not too late to help this project. A small donation will help towards funding the much needed enclosure materials, which you can do really easily by clicking this link: Spider monkey rescue ateles_geoffroyi

None of the team receive a wage for their work, they all work extremely hard in testing conditions for free and are rewarded by the positive effect their efforts have upon the primates.

 

The pitfalls of being a bald primate

*Banner photo-microscope mosquito, photograph my own.

It is common that things will go awry when working in the field, and my last expedition was by no means an exception. In fact, my body turned into quite the horror show for about two weeks whilst in a field station with no electricity, no running water and the tiniest of windows which meant it got dark at about 3pm once the house was in shadow.

Yet my journey into the medical abyss began two weeks prior to entering this particular field site-whilst I was on a a training course to become a certified field assistant of tropical forest terrain, which was the most amazing week of my life and my first experience of tracking, surveying, and photographing wild primates. Whilst on this adventure I went swimming in a lake with some friends, had the best time but also got bitten badly as mosquitoes flock to water-mosquitoes which up until that point had not paid any interest in me and so I couldn’t really see what all the fuss was about…big mistake.

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Two days after swimming I was suffering with bites up both of my legs but still didn’t give it much thought as although it was itchy it was bearable. One week later we travelled the eight hours back to Chiapas city centre and stayed with some friends-by this point my legs were swelling and I could no longer bend at the knees, my legs had also turned black with bruises from my scratching, which once I showed my friends, a medical emergency was announced. Luckily my friends had their father staying at the house who was a doctor, so kindly he administered a steroid injection, much to everyone else’s amusement-into my bum. Great first impressions ey.

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Needless to say, my swelling subsided as did the bruising and so I made the executive decision to pursue our original travel plans and head into Tabasco to a second and then third field site. Whilst at the first stop off I became lethargic and irritable-I put this down to a mild reaction to the injection and homesickness. Yet after two days of field work I was so tired that I spent an entire day sleeping in my tent feeling rather sorry for myself. And then we were off again-to the field site in the mountains.

We arrived late at night and so slept on the floor of a local families house-to which I awoke at 4:30am barely able to breath. My lips and throat had swollen in the night. Although I felt fine in myself, by 7am I was sat in the back of a pick-up truck making my way back down the mountain to see a doctor. By the time we had made it to the town I could barely see out of my eyes and my limbs had decided to swell as well as my entire body breaking out in hives.

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The next week was somewhat of a blur as I mildly hallucinated and was on a concoction of pills and creams. Needless to say this was a miserable time of my life, unable to contact my family for moral support and left in the dark little house for days whilst the rest of the team were out in the mountainous forests tracking monkeys.

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Although this was an unpleasant experience-the blood tests, bum injections, pills, creams, hallucinations, and homesickness was something I will not forget, this is only one aspect of this story. I also had a lot of fun and learned a great deal whilst my body was trying to be a medical mystery (the doctors I saw had no idea what exactly caused this-most probably an allergic reaction combined with a severe flare-up of a join condition which I have suffered with my entire life). The trips to and from the doctors were very frequent as there was no hospital within the state and so I was unable to stay locally for medical aid- this is a consideration those in the field should remember-there is not always a hospital which means you may not get the rest your body needs, and this also means you (like me) may not be able to claim the expenses on your medical insurance…double ouch.

Nevertheless, we frequently stopped on the dirt road after spotting spider monkeys and hearing howler monkeys, so a quick jump out the back of the truck and a short dive into the forest meant I was still able to see and hear the animals which I so desperately wan’t not to miss! Once I was on the mend I was able to participate in local house visits, cook with local families and sit out in my friends garden looking down the mountainous tropical valley whilst eating coconut freshly carved from their own trees.

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The watery beginning to my medical ordeal did not in the slightest put me off-and a couple of days after recovery I was back in the water again, this time in a boat floating down the river in search of botanical samples and monkeys.

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There is always light at the end of the tunnel, and I love field work. Despite the often hazardous health risks-it was well worth it!…Plus I now also have some sexy leg photos to show off at parties 😛

Unfortunately this was not the last medical issue which I faced whilst working in Mexico, and my bottom was soon to become rather well accustomed to injections-but that’s another story entirely!

 

A primate in Oxford

Studying a Masters in Oxford is quite an experience, as is I can imagine studying your under-grad here too. I often get asked what it’s like to study and live in Oxford, as it’s reputation is one of the elite. Oxford is lovely, I had unfortunately been rather limited in my accessibility to most of it, as I have been so busy with university work that to wonder by the river and through the city has been somewhat of a luxury.Nevertheless, when these rare opportunities arise, it was always with pleasure.

Firstly the architecture is astounding, I love old buildings and classical shapes and so seeing it all from different angles and different perspectives is quite thrilling to me. The Bodlien Library is possibly the best place I have been to, and I regret to say I have not used it enough (being quite far from my house restricts me as I have to come home earlier than I would like to let out the dog). The countryside surrounding the city has become our second home, spending all the time we can at the weekends walking the dog in different woodlands and trying to get lost-I think the countryside of Oxford is just as special as the buildings, churches and libraries but maybe less recognised as so. All this being said, it is the most expensive place I have ever struggled to live in, and so this fairy-tale location comes at a rather stressful price-but instead of rambling on about the pros and cons of studying and living in Oxford, I thought some pictures may explain it far more appropriately.ImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImage

 

Primate photo of the week: Macaca nigra

Suborder: Haplorrhini

Infraorder: Simiiformes

Superfamily: Cercopithecoidea

Family: Cercopithecidae

Subfamily: Cercopithecinae

Genus: Macaca

Species: M. nigra

The Saluwesi black crested macaque (Macaca nigra) belongs to the largest primate genus: Macaca. I love this photo by Andrew Walmsley who I was lucky enough to have several lectures/talks by at Oxford Brookes this year- I can now blame him for my expensive new camera which I couldn’t really afford, and for spending all my procrastination time on lightroom rather than essays.

You can view more wonderful wildlife photography by Andrew here: http://www.andrewwalmsleyphotography.com/ , and you can also follow the exciting and heart warming work of the Selamatkan Yaki project, who are dedicated to conserving this majestic species, here: http://selamatkanyaki.com/

 

How to pack for the field

Having read all of the books by Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Birute Galdikas I felt pretty prepared for my first expedition to primate habitats…but in reality I was far from it, and so I have decided to write a blog to give young  budding primatologists  a rough guide on what to bring to the field.

I like to travel light, as it’s inevitable that plans can rapidly change at the blink of an eye and so lugging an entire wardrobe on my back was never a pleasant thought. On my first trip I went with the few clothes which Birute took with her to the field including just two pairs of trousers! I quickly realised that trousers get ruined extremely quickly, a small rip terns into a big hole and then suddenly there are mosquito and yes…ants in your pants. I also took very light weight clothes and had a fairytale image as described by Jane of hiking up mountains in the nude whilst it pours rain and then putting on clean dry clothes at the top- this is impossible to comprehend when working in cloud forests where mosquitoes eat you alive and chiggers (small flies which lay eggs under your skin!) and ticks cling to you in the most undesirable of bodily places. Do not be fooled by the stories of our intrepid  female primate icons-they were crazy!

After learning the hard way-short shorts and linen tops were a sure way of ending up hospitalised from infected bites, itching rashes and swollen limbs…here are a few tips:

  1. THICK CLOTHES: Always wear thick long-sleeved shirts where there are mosquitoes- if you’re anything like me (a pale red head, apparently very desirable to insect heathens) they will make your life hell if you don’t cover up. Although thick clothes can get heavy when drenched in sweat and rain they will prevent insects biting through the material and entering your skin. You will last a whole day in the forest in 45 degree heat wearing a thick shirt and less than an hour if wearing a short sleeved/light weight top.
  2. TROUSERS: you can survive for months at a time in the field with only two pairs of trouser, you can-but my advise is that you take three-that’s not much extra weight to carry and you will appreciate it once you start a long journey between field sites and have yet to find the time or resources to clean the two pairs you have inevitably destroyed with your own sweat and insect repellent. No one wants to sit next to that person on the bus-trust me.
  3. HAT: I am a huge fan of tilly hats, they have a life time guarantee and the tilly stories are rather impressive including one guy who’s tilly hat was eaten by an elephant three times and each time was worn again (once washed!). A durable hat is your life-line, it will keep you shaded and cool making your work much more pleasant. The most important thing I found about wearing a hat with a large rim is that there is a lot of surface area there-ideal for monkey urine and monkey poo! No-one wants monkey poo in their hair or face, and I would put money on it that no primatologist working in the field or captivity has never been pooed of peed on-its a glamorous job.
  4. TORCH: Bring a torch!! The amount of times I slept in places without running water or electricity, in areas where big cats roam at night and I have forgotten to bring a bloody torch and have to scramble around in the dark trying to find a convenient place to urinate preferably away from forest trails but near enough that I can find my way back-nightmare. Wind up torches are the best as they are extremely light weight, cheep and obviously never run out of juice.
  5. HAIR BANDS: Have long hair? Fancy that long hair dripping down your back and in your eyes and falling into poo samples and getting caught in trees? Well tie it up-bring a LOT of bands as you will loose them, and if working with monkeys up close they will rip them out, apparently they make for good chew toys (no metal bits on them please for this reason).
  6. PANTS AND SOCKS: One set for every day of the week-you will always need dry socks to keep your feet healthy, never underestimate the powerful force that is a foot blister-you can be out of action for days in the event of a hardcore foot blister, keep your feet dry at all costs!
  7. TOWELS: Spend a little money on a super-dry towel, again they are lightweight, take up little room in your rucksack and will be the only thing which makes you feel remotely human at the end of a long day with a beautiful bucket bath of cold water under the stars (best feeling ever). Drying yourself with a dirty towel is beyond grim and can cause health issues if you are suffering from irritant rashes and insect bites which inevitably you will be at some point. If you are days away from medical aid you must be responsible and keep your skin healthy by any means possible.
  8. WATER BOTTLES: Do not scrimp out on your water bottle. I took a water platypus with me to my first expedition and regretted it immediately-the sealant was thin and so within three hours I had water pouring down my back which then removed the red dye from my rucksack and the result looked like I was injured as everything I owned was soaked in red blood-like liquid. I then had to attempt to fix it (albeit without success) as I was days away from the nearest shop. Platypus’ are great but don’t get a cheep one and if possible test it before you go.
  9. SANDWICH BAGS: So you’re in the field, and you are collecting the usual bio samples, monkey poo, bitten fruit, even urine (if you’re lucky!) You will need to have a dry and separate place for all your samples which can be easily labelled (masking tape and pencil is best as these are water-resistant). There is nothing worse than coming back from the field to set up your microscope and then spending days trawling through all your samples in an attempt to work out when and where and from which monkey they were collected from: Piss Poor Planning makes for Piss Poor Performance! -Don’t be the one responsible for producing unviable data. In addition, sandwich bags can be used as make-shift gloves in the event of messy and surprising work (I once had to sample human poo in a zoonotic parasitic study where we wanted to see if humans and wild monkeys shared parasites).
  10. PENCILS AND PAPER: Say no to ink and be careful with technology. Ink runs so your data can simply disappear, whereas technology fails. I once almost lost my entire database when an electrical storm eradicated everything electrical for a mile around me…no more lights, no more fridge and no more laptop. Luckily, I had all my paper copies and so a laborious few weeks got me back on track. GPS coordinates can be lost by the click of a wrong button, vocal data can be wiped or distorted when recorded in close proximity to UV lights (be careful about your torch choice!), batteries can die, and equipment can get stolen. Back up everything! Which leads me to the most important tip:
  11. THINK! Do not leave electrical items unattended or plugged in when fully charged, take batteries out of equipment when on planes, have your medical insurance details on hand at all times, keep clean, keep calm and enjoy the unpredictability of field work in tough terrain. Practice your miming and pictionary skills for those awkward moments when your new found language skills fail you, and smile. Never stop smiling, you will get further with a smile than you will do with the best equipment and money in your pocket! People will always help you out if you’re smiling…even if that entails them jabbing you in the bum with a surgical needle to administer medication……but that’s a story for another time.

 

Crowdfunding: how it works, the do’s and the don’ts

After launching a successful on-line fundraising campaign for my primate project this year, I was asked to give a talk about “crowd-funding” at the first ever Primate Society of Great Britain student workshop.

Many people said they were unaware of the crowd-funding requirements, and so I have made this simple guide to show how it works and give some general tips.

FUNRAISING

  1. CROWD-FUNDING, WHAT THE? Crowd-funding is an online website which allows people to donate to your project (for example, mine was to raise money to buy materials for a new monkey enclosure). Simple!…or so it seems:
  2. TOO MANY SITES NOT ENOUGH TIME: You must must must do your research in choosing the right crowd-funding site-what are the site fees? (yes there are always fees, even free money has a cost), what are the sites policies and is your project applicable? (Kickstarter for example does not allow money to be raised for causes! Always read the rules before starting your campaign as it could be taken down), is there a time limit and if so do you get to receive the funds if you don’t make it? Is your project urgent, would a time limit help or hinder your project?

BASIC PRINCIPLES:

  1. FEES: The joy of finances! …not. OK so all crowd-funding sites have fees. SITES THAT CLAIM TO BE 100% FREE WILL CHARGE YOUR DONORS! Never charge your donors for giving you free money…ever, such a bad idea! Fees may seem like a lot but in reality they’re not, you will get far more money raising online than in person and so the cost of the fees is outweighed by what you gain. Site fees vary, the site I use (gofundme.com) charges 8% of every donation (approximately 50p of every £10 donation). But wait! That’s not it! You then have to pay your paypal fees! (0-4-1.5% if paying from a bank account or between paypal accounts, 2.4% + 20p from credit cards)…and there’s more: paypal charges higher rates if your donors are from abroad- best bet is to ask these donors to transfer money directly into your PERSONAL bank account, and then add this amount as an ‘off-line’ donation (which I explain in the offline donation section).
  2. TIME LIMIT: Again sites vary, but a common theme is to have a time limit for your campaign-say a month or two to raise £x. But watch out! This can be a two edged blade- Yes the urgency of a fast campaign can spur your supporters into donating (none of the “I’ll wait til the second pay day of the third month before I donate, oh wait sorry I forgot” excuses) BUT what if you don’t reach your target in that time? Some sites will give you NOTHING, some sites charge you a fee (a failure fee essentially, how depressing!) and some sites do not let you extend or reduce your time limit-please please please remember that essentially you are gambling other peoples well-earned cash.
  3. TARGET: So you have a crowd funding site, you have a great project idea and you want to start raising some £££…but how much?? Your target is something all crowd-funding sites will have, it will show your supporters how much money you want to raise (ie, your target), how much money you have raised and how much you need to go-this is usually shown in percentages. This is a genius idea as psychologically people are more inclined to donate if you you say you need 5% more to reach your target than if you say you need the money equivalent of 5% (I dunno, lets say £146.70…thats just not exciting, but 5%??? wow thats so close I’ll help you out!)-you get the idea.
  4. ADDING MONEY OFFLINE: Yay a way to cheat the system! So someone has transferred you money from abroad into your own personal account or they have given you cash in person, you can simply add this to your crowd-funding site by using the ‘add offline donation’ button. The amount will then be added to your site, making you look really successful, which is always nice. This way your ‘money raised’ amount keeps going up which spurs people to keep donating and allows you to keep track of your overall amount whether it be online or in cash.
  5. REWARDS: For some sites it is mandatory to offer rewards, and others it is optional. I’m on the fence when it comes to offering rewards, in one sense its a nice incentive but on the other hand its an extra expense to you and you need that money for your project, plus nine times out of ten people judge the reward based on the cost (for example, you offer to send a postcard to them from your field site if they donate £10…immediately people think a post card is worth way less than £10-my advise-don’t put a value on their donation). In my experience incentives work much better- “just £10 buys one monkey a rope ladder to help them learn to climb and express species-typical behaviour, a big part of locomotive rehabilitation”. Plus the cute factor helps, not gunna lie.

THE TIPS….WOOO

  1. WRITING YOUR BIO-keep it simple, no really-simple.
  2. PROMOTE PROMOTE PROMOTE! Share your link-every day! Add it to your twitter bio, blog about it, spam it all over facebook and twitter. It’s advised that you spend about 20 minutes per day on advertising and promoting your project, yes it’s an online donate at the click of a button deal, but it’s not easy-it takes work, time, and dedication. I found the best approach was to write out individual personal messages to friends, family and acquaintances with a brief description and a link to the site. If I see a donate link on my facebook news feed, I keep scrolling. If someone messages me personally (and with my name!!?…boy oh boy do I feel special), then yeh I get suckered in and I donate.
  3. SAY THANKS AND KEEP POSITIVE-there is nothing more revolting than crowd-funders spamming my facebook with whining ungrateful negative updates. I don’t want to hear “please I just need £20, it’s only £20!”….it might just be £20 to you but that’s 3 hours of my working life that your asking me to give you! Be positive. Say thank you to every donor, no matter how big or small their donation. Send a personal thank you email, name them on facebook and twitter and acknowledge them on your crowd-funding site.The feel good factor-it’s a charmer 😉
  4. MEDIA-Videos are amazing! People love to see videos to see what you are doing with the money, to feel part of your project and to share with their friends. Photos are also powerful, use them wisely. If it can be said with a picture or words, use a picture-I’m sure there’s a saying about that somewhere right?

4605700042So that’s the crux of it-now feel prepared to be ‘that person’ asking for money from people every day, but be passionate and you will do great things. Be sensitive to your supporters, and remember everything is representative-try and see your donation in relation to the minimum hourly wage- if someone gives you £10 then they have worked almost 2 hours for free, to give you that money, that is a great thing and extremely kind. Be grateful, enjoy the experience, and good luck!

 

Thoughts of a primate packing for the field

The other day I read that the average person moves house 8 times in their life-time. I guess I must be the outlier, it’s become so frequent I actually keep the boxes on hand as I never know when I’ll need them at short notice.

Now I am not a bad tenant or anything! I just seem to go with the ebb and flow of a rather manic life, in the short-I get bored easily and I am also poor, it is far easier for me to pack up and go volunteering for free bed and board and then deal with the shit storm of finding a place to live with a decrepit dog when I get back rather than to pay rent for somewhere I won’t use for months at a time. Yes, coming home to your own place, your own bed and your own sheets is nice-but it’s become a rather expensive luxury-plus an air bed or sofa does just fine after spending months sleeping in all sorts of places in all sorts of conditions. Just being in a house where the insects can’t kill you is enough.

So in two weeks time I head off to Mexico for the next part of my primate journey-to return to the sanctuary and set my plan into motion-to build my enclosure designs, set up new monkey social groups, coordinate my team of volunteers and collect observational behavioural data throughout.

Oxford has been fun, but I am really looking forward to getting stuck back in, to tackle the 98% humidity, 49 degree heat, mosquito plagues, bugs that lay maggots under your skin, being covered in monkey poo and drenched in my own sweat.

I can’t wait!

 

Primate photo of the week: Humans

I can’t say I am a people-person, but I have met some of the most fascinating and inspiring people from all over the world on my travels. I am only 25 and feel that so far I have done quite a lot with my blip of an existence. I think this photo is beautiful, staggering and truly wonderful- it’s rare that a perfect moment is captured and I am very glad that this one was.

For more inspirational human-focussed photography visit this link: http://news.distractify.com/people/complex-humans/?v=1

A history of zoo ethics explored with primates

Primates are highly representative of the progressive zoo ethics within the Western world. Chimpanzee, Pan troglodytes, tea parties were once epitome of early zoos along with barren concrete cages with metal barred walls and the iconic lone tire swing. Functioning initially as an example of human curiosity and entertainment, zoo primates are surrounded by a historically significant philosophy which continues to shape the ethics of zoological institutions today. I propose that primates, our closest kin,  continue to represent the many ethical issues of zoo management practised within the West today.

The appeal of primates as zoo animals largely and initially stemmed from their kinship with humans. The first chimpanzees housed in zoos were exploited based upon their physical similarities to humans and comparable cognitive ability, allowing them to manipulate house-hold items in a manner of resemblance to human daily activities. Thus the chimpanzee tea parties were borne. The entertainment value of which has drawn the attention of philosophers and biologists alike. de Waal (2001) claims such anthropomorphism of ridiculing human-imitation denatured chimps in an attempt to detach oneself from the reality of relatedness, a reality which calls moral obligations into question. By reducing them to a role lower than human status, we can place ourselves upon the proverbial pedistall and disregard the rights we possibly (and probably) should allocate to apes which we can clearly see have social and cognitive needs comparable to our own. After all, we do have a history of segregating our own species let alone others- historically we wouldn’t lock up our beloved grandmother but we would our slaves.

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Relatedness to apes was widely criticized throughout the 1800s for fear of abandonment of traditional Judeo-Christian standings. The original works of Rene Descartes and Thomas Aquinas, who believed animals were mere automatons without thought or self awareness permitted animal exploitation free from the moral constraints applied to humans. However, the Darwinian revolution of the latter 1800s dissolved the species boundaries imposed by the Scala Natura which once depicted humans above all other life forms on earth, thus making way for a more egalitarian theory: evolution by natural selection (Darwin 1859). Therefore, the kinship between humans and primates has had an extensive and uneasy history, including significant ramifications to religious ideology. Advancements in scientific species classification in the recent neo-Darwinian era of DNA analysis confirmed the chimpanzee as our closest genetic kin, with significant consequences for our moral obligations to them. Our kinship with primates is also vastly exploited by their neotony. The cute response, a term coined by Konrad Lorenz, depicts the innate drive to care for organisms with human-like infantile morphology. In addition, the similarities in emotive expressions of primates and humans as documented by Darwin (1872), make primates highly susceptible to anthropomorphism and provide a clear reminder of our close relation. It is little wonder then why the decisions surrounding captive management of primates (in particular apes) are very emotive and controversial.

Primates are a favoured taxon within zoos for attracting visitors. Primate species are utilized in zoos as educational resources, acting as captive ambassadors to wild counterparts, generating public concern for species survival and contributing to in situ conservation efforts. The captive propagation of many primate species is also considered extremely important, with almost half (48%) of the worlds primates (n= 634 species) threatened with extinction (IUCN 2010). Primarily these alarming rates of decline are due to human impact, habitat loss, human encroachment and fragmentation being the most commonly cited threats to species within the Primate order. One could thus argue that the appeal of zoo-housed captive primates regardless of direct conservation value provide strong incentives for public education and outreach for wild-counterparts.

Euthanasia of surplus zoo animals has been a controversial issue seeing much media attention in recent months after the punishing social media storm which arose after Copenhagen Zoo euthenazed Marius the giraffe, to then cull several lions within weeks of the media and public onslaught. Yet Primates are rarely subjected to culling when zoos become over capacity, many institutions choosing to continue the life of captive great apes past their breeding age at significant financial cost to the zoo despite those very costs and zoo space being better utilized for other functioning animals. So why is this? I believe it be the same theme as was proposed by de Waal in response to humans revelling in the chimpanzee tea parties. In the short, we don’t want to kill our relatives. Just as de Waal claimed ridicule functions to detach ourselves from our moral obligations to chimpanzees, we detach ourselves from the role of zoo apes as a functioning living specimen by subsisting them as individuals and believing their role within the zoo is second to their rights to life. A right to life which primates have but other cognitive animals do not. From the zoological perspective one may conclude the loss of earnings resultant from the public outcry in response to the euthanasia of great apes would far outweigh the benefits made by eradicating individuals taking up valued resources.

Primates also offer a unique insight into the effectiveness of captive breeding strategies for in situ conservation. Just one year prior to me writing this, there were believed to be ~400 primate species, but now there are somewhere in the region of 600! Not only are new primate species being discovered (the Arunachal macaque [macaca munzala] being just one example), but species which were once believed to be one species are rediscovered as two (the orangutan being a beautiful case in point). Hybridizations of species within captivity can therefore be mildly problematic to say the least- Over 80 Bornean (Pongo pygmaeus) and Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelli) hybrids remain in American zoos today, all of which have NO conservation value. That is 80 mouths to feed for up to 50 years of their average captive lives, and they do not represent wild lineages. Yet again, we sustain these animals because they are our relatives, our moral and ethical obligations- and I believe it should be so.

Coming back to the cute response, another common theme depicted throughout the zoo-debate literature is the over-breeding of ‘cute’ animals in order to attract more visitors. As much as I advocate zoos (but I do not by far agree with many of their independent management decisions), I fear this is indeed the case. Primates are especially susceptible to anthropomorphism, and as such the birth of a baby gorilla, orangutan, gibbon or any other round-raced dow-eyed neonate, is a sure way of attracting increased zoo visitors and financial revenue-not just in ticket sales but in cute and cuddly merchandise and heightened media coverage. This not only enhances the problem of surplus stock but also inadvertently promotes primates as pets. From my own experience working with ex-pet primates and also within zoos, the most common response I heard on an almost hourly basis was “oh how cute, I really want one!” Unless captive breeding is a conservation strategy then the promotion of baby zoo-housed primates should not be condoned without increasing efforts of education explaining a) why this baby was born in a zoo and not in the wild, and b) why baby primates should not be raised by humans.  If anything I believe baby primates should remain off-show to the public until the cute-response is weakened by age.

Although this post just details a snippet of how primates can depict zoo ethics throughout history, I find it really interesting that primates can illustrate the historical journey of zoos, from their function as entertainment  to conservation. From the Victorian era to the present day- primates represent very clearly the different ethical implications to housing zoo animals and meeting zoo objectives.