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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Successful PhD viva

Sandra Molesti has successfully defended her PhD thesis last week, passing the viva with minor changes. Sandra’s thesis focuses on grooming exchange and cooperation in the Barbary macaque, a topic that has important implications for our understanding of human social evolution. Sandra had an international panel for her viva, composed of Dr Gabriele Schino (CNR, Rome), a leading figure on primate social behaviour, and two members from Lincoln Dr. Kun Guo and Professor Jonathan Cooper (who work on comparative vision research and animal welfare, respectively).

In the coming weeks Sandra will be busy with the minor corrections of her thesis, writing up papers from her thesis, and job hunting!

Well done Dr. Molesti!!


Viva Sandra 12 Dec 2013a

From left: Gabriele, Sandra, Kun and Jonathan


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Using Barbary macaques to get kids excited about science

I was invited to speak at an elementary school to third year students about Barbary macaques for “Scientist in the School” Day. The aim of this program is to introduce students to different branches of science, challenge children’s perceptions of what a “scientist” is and does, introduce them to current issues, and get them excited about science. Barbary macaques were the perfect subject to achieve these goals. Students and teachers alike were very excited to learn about Barbary macaque ecology and behaviour and the work that the Barbary Macaque Project does. The students were extremely engaged and enthusiastic during my talk (including gasps when I explained that Barbary macaques do not have tails, a monkey with no tail?!) and were full of questions.

Following my presentation we played a few rounds of a game called “Name That Monkey” where students identified pictures of individuals from the Blue and Green Groups, followed by a question period.  Students then returned to their classrooms and I had the opportunity to speak one-on-one with them as they completed work sheets on Barbary macaque ecology. Their curiosity about the monkeys seemed endless as I answered more questions about what it is like to work with Barbary macaques, which monkeys are my favourite, and how to become a primatologist. I even heard a few declarations of “I want to be a primatologist!” before the day was over.

Scientist in school


A drawing by a third year student depicting deforestation as one of the threats Barbary macaques face.

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New paper on post-grooming anxiety

A new paper from our team has been published in Animal Behaviour. The paper looks at anxiety following grooming in wild Barbary macaques. This paper is the first one to assess post-grooming anxiety in the donor and recipient of the same grooming interactions in a wild non-human primate species.

male groomingTwo males grooming


Molesti, S. & Majolo, B. 2013. Grooming increases self-directed behaviour in wild Barbary macaques, Macaca sylvanus. Animal Behaviour, 86, 169-175. (web link)


Allo-grooming has hygienic and social functions. Moreover, anxiety is thought to be reduced in the first few minutes after a grooming interaction is terminated. Few data exist on post-grooming reduction in anxiety, and mostly concern the recipient of grooming and captive animals. We analysed whether anxiety is reduced after grooming and whether this reduction differs between the donor and recipient of grooming. We collected 10 min post-grooming and matched-control (PG-MC) focal data on the donor and recipient of the same grooming interaction in wild Barbary macaques. We recorded all the occurrences of self-directed behaviours (i.e. self-scratching and self-grooming) as these are reliable indicators of anxiety. The occurrence of self-directed behaviour was greater in PGs than in MCs for both the donor and recipient. This increase in post-grooming anxiety was more evident for the recipient than for the donor. The post-grooming increase in anxiety was not due to a higher risk of receiving aggression after grooming. Unlike previous studies, our results indicate that anxiety may increase after grooming in Barbary macaques. If so, the social and hygienic benefits of grooming may outweigh its short-term anxiety cost. Self-directed behaviour may increase because of the emotional response to the change in activity (e.g. from grooming to travelling) and/or frustration at the termination of grooming. Our findings highlight the need to investigate further the link between emotions and grooming.


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A new Doctor in town!

Here is Chris talking about his thesis

Here is Chris talking about his thesis

A few weeks ago Christopher Young has been awarded a PhD Degree from the Georg August University of Gottingen, Germany, for a thesis entitled “Cooperation and competition in wild male Barbary macaques (Macaca sylvanus) in Morocco”. Chris has been a key member of the Barbary Macaque Project since it’s start, having worked in Morocco as a research assistant first and then coming back to the field for his PhD. Chris has already published various papers on prestigious journals and has more to come in the next few months. He will be staying in Gottingen for the next few months, to run more analyses on male behaviour and mating tactics, in collaboration with Prof. Julia Ostner and Dr. Oliver Schülke (two long-term key members of our team).

It’s a tradition in Germany that PhD students, who successfully defend their thesis, have to wear a hat representing their main interests.  As you can see from the pictures below, Chris’s main interests are (not necessarily in this order) football, ‘drinks’ and sexual swellings in Barbary macaque females!

Congratulations Dr. Young!!

"Chris' research interests": football, beer and macaques' sexual swelling (the red, 'volcanic'-shape bit popping our from the back of the hat is supposed to be the bottom of a female macaque in full swelling during the mating season...)

“Chris’ research interests”: football, beer and macaques’ sexual swelling (the red, ‘volcanic’-shape bit, popping our from the back of the hat, is supposed to be the bottom of a female macaque in full swelling during the mating season…)


Well done Chris!!!

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