Preventing monkey bites

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 P1060970recognise 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.

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Metabolic flexibility of Barbary macaques

Huddling is always an effective strategy to help keeping the body warm when it's cold (photo by Patrick Tkaczynski)

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.

Graphical abstract Biology Letters April 2016

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The monkeys make it to Japanese TV

Looking for food under the snow

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:

The documentary was filmed by the Dutch company ‘Ateles’ and shows the Barbary macaques at their best!

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Eco-guards to protect the endangered Barbary macaque


Eco guards project July 2015 #6

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!!!

Eco guards project July 2015 #5

Liz and the eco-guards during a training session

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Why grooming is good for you

Our team has recently published two studies on the benefits of grooming exchange in Barbary macaques. Grooming is intensely studied by primatologists as a model behaviour to analyse the benefits of sociality. relaxing!

Grooming…so relaxing!

In our first study (Molesti & Majolo 2015) we found that grooming did not increase food tolerance soon after a grooming interaction ended. This is not a surprising result, as the social benefits of grooming are more likely to become evident when considering large time windows than over short-term exchanges.

In our second study in male macaques (Young et al 2014), we found that monkeys with strong social bonds (measured by grooming exchange and other friendly behaviours) were better able to cope with social (aggression received) and environmental (low temperature) stressors. This supports previous research on humans and other animals in showing that sociality gives benefits in terms of survival, reproduction and response to stress.

Threat #1

Open mouth display: low intensity aggressive display in macaques


Molesti S & Majolo B. (2015). No short‐term contingency between grooming and food tolerance in Barbary macaques (Macaca sylvanus). Ethology, 121: 372-382.

Young C, Majolo B, Heistermann M, Schülke O, & Ostner J (2014). Responses to social and environmental stress are attenuated by strong male bonds in wild macaques. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111: 18195-18200.

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