Friday, July 4, 2014

Chimpanzee Gestures Interpreted

While for many years researchers focused on teaching great apes how to learn our language, through sign or symbols, Dr Catherine Hobaiter from the University of St Andrews in Scotland just published an article in the journal Current Biology. She expands on her research into chimpanzee communication and says that wild chimpanzees are able to communicate very specific messages to one another using specific gestures.
For instance, offering a particular part of the body to another chimpanzee is a request to be groomed; whereas tearing strips from a leaf indicates a chimpanzee is showing sexual interest in another individual.
The study findings are based on the analysis of numerous videos made while the research team was following chimps in Uganda.
While we are not quite ready yet to understand the subtleties of chimpanzee gestures and partake in comprehensive conversations with our next of kin, it is great news.

You can consult the BBC article for more details.

Along the same line, an article "Pantomine in Great Apes", published by Anne E. Russon (Professor of Psychology, Glendon College, York University, Toronto) and Kristin Andrews (York University, Toronto) outlines that wild orangutans can communicate using gestures as well.
Orangutans solicite grooming by initiating grooming with another individual; they pretend to be unable to do something when they need help and like chimpanzees, they teach other individuals how to do something through demonstration.

Why Do Apes Point? (Janni Pedersen, Iowa State University), Par Segerdahi (Uppsala University) and William M. Fields (Great Ape Trust of Iowa), argue that bonobos deliberately use pointing gestures.

Although not related to primates, here are two interesting articles addressing how dogs and elephants understand human gestures and sometimes can use that knowledge to their advantage.

The Scientist : Catch My Drift?

National Geographic: African Elephants Understand Human Gestures


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A great start for 2014 in the primate world!

I have been so busy, I have neglected my blog but I have decided 2014 would be a little more prolific.  So, to begin with, I browsed through all the news related to primates since the beginning of January and there are already quite a few exciting highlights.

The Cincinnati zoo celebrated the first birthday of Gladys, the baby gorilla raised by surrogates.  It's like Tarzan, but in reverse - human surrogates helped raise a baby primate - not an easy task but definitely worthy.
In this video you can see Gladys and her gorilla friends eating a very special birthday cake and hear about the great conservation work the zoo is doing.



Bonobos are extremely rare and only found in one specific region of the Congo.  Needless to say they are extremely endangered.  Only a handful of zoos in the US have the privilege to exhibit bonobos and  the same Cincinnati zoo introduces to the world a young bonobo female (the 8th bonobo birth in that facility).   See the baby in the video below.


Then… out of nowhere comes the great news that a "chimpanzee mega-culture"has been discovered in the central Uele region of Northern DRC.  A group of thousands of individuals sharing the same "customs" and behaviors. Knowing the chimpanzee populations have been declining drastically over the years, this was totally unexpected.  For more information, read this article in the Huffington Post.

Wounda, a female chimpanzee overcame illness and is released on the island of Tchindzoulou. Watch the story of Wounda now.  So very touching.



What would you do if one of your animals escaped?  Well, a zoo in Japan holds drills every two years to keep its staff on the alert.  See for yourself…


Come back soon for more news on primates.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Say "Cheese" Before I Snap!

Did you ever curse at your dentist for saying you don't floss enough?  Well, you think twice because apparently, some primates do it without the prompt of a professional.  So, whether you agree or disagree that flossing is a necessity to preserve your pearly whites, there might be some benefit to it after all.

A Japanese macaque female, named Chompe, resident at Kyoto University Primate Research Institute, was seen pulling a hair tight between her hands and running it through her teeth to remove food remnants.  According to Jean-Baptiste Leca, the lead author of a report published in the January 2013 issue of the journal Primates, flossing may have been an "accidental bi-product of grooming".
Apparently, this wise female came up with three different techniques of flossing - 1) by moving her mouth to run hers or another monkey's hair through her teeth; 2) by gently moving her head backwards to run hers or another monkey's hair through her teeth; 3) by pulling a strand of her own hair and running it through her teeth with her hands (much like we do).
For more details on this interesting phenomenon, I recommend you check out an article on Discovery entitled "Tidy Monkey Flosses Teeth".

Let's look at the differences between human and non-human primate teeth.  The most obvious difference is that humans do not have large canines.  Baring our teeth to impress a competitor would be a most unusual behavior for our kind.  Note that the presence of large canines prevents side to side jaw movements.  Another important difference.  Female primates usually have smaller canines - especially for apes.  Human teeth are smaller and less specialized than those of non-human primates - we really are not furry enough to necessitate the use of a tooth comb like our lemur friends.  Human molars have five points on the grinding surface, while ape molars only have four - a very useful trait for paleontologists to identify their finds.  In humans, permanent canines grow before permanent second molar, it is the reverse in apes.  The arch of the mouth is different in humans and non-human primates.  Humans seem to have fast growing enamel, whereas apes seem to have slow growing enamel.  Thin enamel generally characterizes fructivores; humans have thick enamel more adapted to plant and meat eating.  There is more micro wear in thick enameled teeth and a diet higher in sugary food is more likely to cause decay.

Mind your diet and keep flossing.


Recommended readings: Primate Dentition - An Introduction To The Teeth of Non-Human Primates. - Daris Swinder.

Dental Microwear in Live, Wild-Trapped Alouatta palliata From Costa Rica - Duke Univsersity


Saturday, August 31, 2013

Book Review: Primates of the World

I just recently received a copy of "PRIMATES OF THE WORLD" and am delighted to write about it today.  Originally published in French, the English version of this stunningly beautiful book is elegantly translated and will be available as of September 18.  It is "the" reference everyone interested in primates should have by their bedside.

It opens with a great overview of primates, their origins, evolution, anatomy, habitats, social organization and communication.  Although succinct, it clearly outlines the diversity of species and how they share resources.  It is full of interesting facts - for instance, a reduction in the number of large trees in the forests of Madagascar "could have led to the first locomotion specializations in ancestral indrids, leading them to leap from trunk to trunk instead of moving around on branches." Or did you know that the slender Asian loris, when sensing danger, rears up and that the "undulating movements of its body combined with the markings on its head give the impression of a cobra"?  I had never reflected upon the fact that a predator invasion from North America may have led to "the development of specialized prehensile (grasping) tails in certain New World monkeys".

The second part is dedicated to the classification of primates - it features a beautiful graphic which clearly illustrates the branches of the order Primates, followed by handy classification tables.

The third part of the book is the most comprehensive documentation of primates I have ever come across.  Each page comes with a color coded map, description of the species and magnificent illustrations depicting sub-species, males, females, babies in different postures.  Each drawing is lively, colorful and very practical to identify animals one might come across either in captivity or in the wild.

As stated by the authors: "Our generation is privileged in comparison with those that will follow because we are still able to witness, before it is destroyed, what is left of a natural world that helps us to understand a little about our own origins.  If we do not protect our monkey and ape "brothers", it will no longer be possible to observe that, according to many criteria, they were barely more primitive than we are."

For those of you interested in getting a copy, the book is coming out on September 18.
Here are the title and ISBN reference:


PRIMATES OF THE WORLD
An Illustrated Guide
Jean-Jacques Petter & Fran├žois DesbordesTranslated by Robert Martin
Princeton Univesity Press
Cloth | $29.95 / £19.95 | ISBN: 9780691156958



About the Authors & Translator:
Jean-Jacques Petter (1927-2002) was a world authority on lemurs and one of France's leading primatologists. He was a research fellow at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris. Fran├žois Desbordes is one of France's premier wildlife illustrators.Robert Martin is the A. Watson Armour III Curator of Biological Anthropology at the Field Museum in Chicago.

Illustration examples from the book:

Indri and Avahis


Howler monkeys


Friday, July 12, 2013

Famous PG Tips Louis the Chimps dies

Many articles were published recently to announce the death of a famous advertising talent - Louis, a chimpanzee who starred in PG Tips advertising as a Bond-like character, who saved the world and sure enjoyed a good cuppa!

He wasn't the only star in those commercials that aired in the 70s and 80s, the tea company built their entire advertising campaigns on the adventures of a family of chimps. These colorful characters greatly contributed to PG Tips brand awareness and popularity and were voted most "favorite advertising characters" in a 2003 poll in the Guardian (UK).  Animal rights organizations, however, forced the PG Tips company to stop using primates and nowadays a sock monkey has replaced the talented actor who finished his life at the Twycross zoo in Atherstone, Warwickshire, England.

Louis died at age 37 and is survived by his screen and life partner Choppers, aged 42, who will be moved in with other chimps so she can survive the grief of losing a lifelong companion.

Primates, especially chimpanzees, have been used many times by humans - their clumsiness, not so good looks are amusing to us.  They allow us to laugh at ourselves, but also feel superior.
The problem is that animals used in the entertainment industry are not always treated ethically and humanely.  Because they are so strong and dangerous as adults, only babies and juveniles are used on stage. They are exploited - bringing in high financial rewards for the companies employing them, only to end up in a zoo or other sanctuary at best, or in laboratories, when they are too old to be handled safely.  This is happening because animals (not only primates) are considered pretty much everywhere in the world as "objects" rather than "beings" by the law.  Some associations are working hard at changing this status, such as, among others, The Non Human Rights Project.

The continued use of primates in the entertainment industry also encourages the illegal pet trade and contributes to propagating an inaccurate portrayal of these very intelligent and emotional creatures.  This is why, even though, like many other fellow humans, I laugh and enjoy seeing them on screen, I think it is important that we stop exploiting them and give them back the dignity they were born with and deserve - especially when a sock monkey can be as effective as a real one to sell a product a chimp would never enjoy in real life!




Saturday, June 15, 2013

Chimp behaviors and personalities


I want to refer you to a very interesting article published in The Economist under the title: "Planet of the Apes".

This article focuses on the results of a report from the American Journal of Primatology by Dr. Freeman and her team who have been studying chimpanzee behavior for a long time.  It would seem that chimpanzee personas have six dimensions (extroversion, agreeableness, openness, reactivity, dominance and methodicalness) as opposed to five for humans (extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness).  Reactivity could be compared to neuroticism in humans but is different enough not be identified as such; methodicalness measures how the apes solve problems (using a twig to retrieve ants for instance) and could be more or less equated to conscientiousness in humans, although different.  However, per Dr. Freeman and her team, there is no human equivalent to chimp dominance.

The study is important for zoo keepers since it allows them to assess whether or not two chimps could get along in the same enclosure.  

Chimpanzee dominance - BBC video

Chimpanzee empathy - De Waal

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Rock'n Primates



Walking down the main road of the sanctuary where I volunteer, I often hear the rhythmic drumming of chimpanzees and think it would be fun to make a music album.  It would be wild, but full of spirit.  Those chimps seem to enjoy the repeating beats and honestly with an electric guitar it would sound fantastic!  After reading the summary of a recent study conducted at the Primate Research Institute at Kyoto University, I am comforted in this idea that chimps can rock'n roll.
Researchers trained a group of three chimpanzees to hit keys on a keyboard and played distractor sounds as they were doing it.  A female then aligned her tapping to the distractor sound.  Although, this may not sound like much and more research is warranted, it could mean that humans are not the only ones who are able to synchronize sound with movement.

On the same subject, I recommend a very entertaining article from Psychology Today entitled "Why Chimpanzees Would Dance to Johnny Cash's Music" in which we meet a very unusual musician by the name of Harry Hmura head of "Musicians for Apes" who played for chimpanzees in a sanctuary outside of Montreal.  He recalls how Toby (a chimpanzee) started swaying his head back and forth to the rhythm of the strumming and even began to "sing".  He also played for orangutans in Florida and their reaction was different - they sat and listened very intently, interested in the guitar.

A rescued chimp playing a toy piano:


As the old saying goes: "Music has charms that soothes the savage beast"!
 
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