New study: preventing disease transmission between tourists and Barbary macaques
There is an increased risk of disease transmission between humans and wild animals when tourists come into close proximity (< 10 meters) or in contact with these animals, for example by feeding them. This can have serious impacts for the health of both tourists and animals, and in particular for non-human primates, who are often vulnerable to similar pathogens as humans. Using actual behavioural data and modelling methods, our latest study (Carne et al 2017) explored the risks of disease transmission between humans and adult Barbary macaques at a popular tourist site in Morocco. We observed a high rate of physical contact and close proximity between humans and macaques, even when the macaques were ill, highlighting the potential risk of disease transmission. There was little difference between individuals in their abilities to spread pathogens within their own social group; therefore all interactions with tourists could be a source of an outbreak. We recommend that general disease prevention strategies, such as keeping a safe distance (> 10 meters) and avoiding feeding wild primates, should be adopted in a near future.
Carne, C., Semple, S., MacLarnon, A., Majolo, B., & Maréchal, L. (2017). Implications of Tourist–Macaque Interactions for Disease Transmission. EcoHealth, 14(4), 704-717.
Wildlife tourists frequently fail to identify aggressive and distressed emotional states in wild monkeys – mistaking animals’ warnings of aggression for ‘smiles’ and ‘kisses’. This can lead to welfare problems for primates and risk of injury for people.
In our new paper we examined whether educational tools intended to help tourists recognise different facial expressions in monkeys – such as 2D images and information signs like those found in zoos or animal parks – were effective in reducing harm to humans and distress to primates in destinations where wild macaques freely interact with humans. We found that tourists made significant mistakes in interpreting macaques’ emotions – such as believing a monkey was ‘smiling’ or ‘blowing them kisses’ when they were in fact displaying aggression – despite exposure to pictures designed to demonstrate what the animals’ facial expressions mean. This level of misunderstanding could lead to increased risk of injury to humans and have a negative impact on the welfare on the animals, particularly in places where wild macaques interact with people, the study concluded.
Our research suggests videos or supervised visits led by expert guides would be better placed to educate tourists about how best to read emotions in animals in zoos and wildlife parks, along with advice on maintaining safe distance from the animals.
Huddling is always an effective strategy to help keeping the body warm when it’s cold (photo by Patrick Tkaczynski)
The endangered Barbary macaques have to cope with extreme environmental conditions, from cold and snowy winters to hot and dry summers. Under these extreme and diverse ecological conditions full-filling their daily energetic requirements may be very difficult for macaques. We have recently published a study that analyse the metabolic strategies of Barbary macaques in response to various ecological challenges. Below are the link to the paper and the graphical abstract.
Cristóbal-Azkarate, J., Maréchal, L., Semple, S., Majolo, B., & MacLarnon, A. (2016). Metabolic strategies in wild male Barbary macaques: evidence from faecal measurement of thyroid hormone. Biology Letters, 12(4), 20160168.
Looking for food under the snow
Last spring a documentary on the Barbary macaques of Morocco has been released on NHK, a Japanese channel. A short trailer of the documentary is available on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zrA1AImcIZE.
The documentary was filmed by the Dutch company ‘Ateles’ and shows the Barbary macaques at their best!
Ready to protect the monkeys
The Moroccan Primate Conservation Foundation (MPCF), a key partner of the Barbary Macaque Project, has just started a new programme to protect the endangered Barbary macaques: 2 eco-guards have been trained by MPCF and Liz Campbell (from the Barbary Macaque Project) to avoid poaching of the monkeys in the forest near the city of Azrou. This is an excellent achievement that will have a great positive impact for the protection of the macaques, as poaching is one of the main causes of the dramatic decline of this species in recent years. Well done MPCF and best of luck to the eco-guards for their new job!!!
Liz and the eco-guards during a training session