Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Morocco - making the animals anxious?

If you are taking a day trip out of Fez, or coming back from a day in the cool up in Ifran, it might be a good thing to heed the warnings about the Macaques (Barbary apes). Some years ago, coming through Tizi Tioumliline and on the track beside the Oued Sebbab that leads you back to Azrou I stopped for a quiet Macaque chat and while I was thus engaged another launched itself onto my back. This not an experience to be recommended.

But now, according to the journal Biological Conservation, a study reveals that Macaques at a site regularly visited by tourists showed signs of anxiety when people got too close, fed them or tried to attract their attention for a photograph.

The scientists monitored the monkeys' behaviour and also tested the animals' droppings for stress hormones.

"There's been a lot of interest, recently, in tourism and how it affects wild animal populations," explained Dr Stuart Semple, a scientist who specialises in the study of primates at the University of Roehampton in London, UK. "But while there are studies that show tourism does affect animal behaviour, we've tried to look at it much more directly, and to actually measure their levels of anxiety."

Macaque taking a time-check
Laetitia Marechal, also from Roehampton, led the study.

She and her colleagues studied 50 days of tourist-monkey interactions at Ifrane National Park in the Middle Atlas Mountains of Morocco.

A population of macaques here has become habituated to the regular visits of tourists for at least five years.

"The more tourists there were, the more anxious the macaques would become," said Dr Semple.

"Just like humans, macaques scratch themselves when they're nervous or anxious, so we use this [scratching behaviour] as a measure of their level of anxiety."

The researchers divided the interactions into three categories: feeding; neutral, which included taking photographs of the monkeys; and aggression, including the less common incidences of tourists throwing things at the macaques or physically striking them.

My opinion? Nah, I'm sitting on the fence...
"All three types of interactions seemed to make the monkeys anxious," said Dr Semple.

For the record,i t is thought there are fewer than 6,000 Barbary Macaques left in the wild. They are found mainly in mountainous regions of Algeria and Morocco.

While I agree with the scientists, I have to say that having a Macaque on my back, holding on to my ears and riding me like a small jockey on a pony, also made me anxious.

1 comment:

Jed Carosaari said...

Do you have a link to the study?