Who is your best ally in a fight?

We have had a new paper published in Animal Behaviour on male Barbary macaques and who they pick to support them in a fight. Find the paper here: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0003347214002590
Two males grooming in the beautiful cedar forest of Morocco (picture by Chris Young)

Two males grooming in the beautiful cedar forest of Morocco

Male primates are known to cooperate together to gain greater benefits than they could achieve alone, such as access to females for mating or to increase their rank position in the dominance hierarchy. One of the most common ways they cooperate is through aggressive coalitions, whereby two or more males team up against another individual. These can be very intense and dangerous situations with a great deal of physical aggression. However, it has remained unclear who is being recruited to join a male in these coalitions and why? Two main theories exist, firstly a male should try to recruit a partner with the greatest strength to maximise their chance of winning. Or alternatively as these coalitions are highly aggressive a male may select a partner with a strong social bond (a “friend”) as they would be less likely to leave them in the lurch during the aggressive contest.

To look at this we recorded all males who were around when a fight broke out and then which one was recruited to join a coalition. Males use a distinct facial expression and rapidly turn their head in the direction of the individual they want to recruit so we were able to easily decipher who was being selected. Knowing all the males who were in the immediate area when the fight occurred is a relatively unique aspect of the study and possible due to the openness of the oak and ceder forest in Morocco.
We found that our males are very flexible in their strategies, they would recruit the highest ranked males on some occasions and the male with the strongest social bond on others. It seems when the fight was directly over access to females then males would recruit the highest ranked male available, this should be the strongest male and males would need a strong partner as fights over females are generally highly contested. We think males may recruit a strongly bonded partner (“friend”) when trying to rise in the dominance hierarchy as these fights usually require several contests to ware-down the higher ranked individual to rise above them in the pecking order so a male should select a reliable partner for this, i.e. a good friend.
Another very interesting aspect we found is that male Barbary macaques do have long-term, strong social bonds with other males. This is unusual in male primates as they are usually unrelated in groups and are highly competitive fighting over females. So these friendships are less likely to develop in males than females. But our study males formed strong relationships with partners for two years of the study. Strong social relationships generally provide primates with several benefits and it seems in Barbary macaques one of these is being able to recruit a reliable, trustworthy partner for high risk, dangerous fights.
Conflicts are a risky business: better to have an ally whenever possible! (picture by Chris Young)

Conflicts are a risky business: better to have an ally whenever possible!

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Barbary macaques on National Geographic

The November issue of National Geographic features an article on the Barbary macaque and fantastic pictures of the monkeys we study in Morocco, taken by Francisco Mingorance. Francisco is a Spanish photographer who has spent long hours with the monkeys to get the right picture!

02-playtime-snackby Francisco Mingorance

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Conservation Evening at Monkey Forest

Members of the Barbary Macaque Project, Dr. Bonaventura Majolo and Professor Stuart Semple, together with Kristina Stazaker (Moroccan Primate Conservation) have been invited to give a talk on October 11th at the Conservation Evening organised by Monkey Forest in Staffordshire. The event will start at 17.30 with talks on the conservation of the Barbary macaques in the wild, be followed by a questions and answers session and a wine reception. The evening is a great opportunity to talk about the macaques and contribute to their conservation!

Grooming

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Visit to the British counsins

The crew is all together after lots of pictures and data!

The crew is all together after lots of pictures and data!

Last week, we had an opportunity to visit the macaques at Trentham Monkey Forest, a park housing around 130 Barbary macaques in a large forested area. This visit was part of the elective module on Comparative Social Behaviour and Cognition offered to second year Psychology students at the University of Lincoln. At the park we enjoyed watching the monkeys in action and the students could collect some data on grooming exchange as part of the Poster assessment. We were pretty lucky with the weather, as it was sunny for most of the day, and the monkeys decided to behave, spending lots of time grooming! The visit was also an opportunity to film the monkeys (and humans!) to showcase one of the many engaging activities our students can be involved in during their degree at Lincoln.

The monkeys were very cooperative and spent quite a lot of time grooming

The monkeys were very cooperative and spent quite a lot of time grooming

 

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Conservation in action

Last week the Moroccan Primate Conservation Foundation, a ONG with which we collaborate on a number of projects, has given 30 combination oven/cooker/heater units to families living in the forest around Azrou. These units were made locally and funded by funded by Burgers Zoo in Holland in partnership with Ifrane National Park. The use of these units will reduce the need for firewood up to 70%, thus making a significant contribution in saving the forest inhabited by the Barbary macaques! An additional really rewarding part of this project is that the units have been given to very poor families that live in extreme conditions very far away from comforts like gas and electricity. These families rely on the collection of fire wood for heating and cooking and live on herding flocks of goats and sheep.

This is an excellent example of how conservation projects can be extremely beneficial for wildlife and local communities!

Abderrahim Derrou (director of the Ifrane National Park) and Els van Lavieren (MPC Foundation) delivering a unit to one of the families in the forest

Abderrahim Derrou (director of the Ifrane National Park) and Els van Lavieren (MPC Foundation) delivering the units to the families in the forest

 

Everybody is happy with the new oven/cooker/heater!!

Everybody is happy with the new oven/cooker/heater!!

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