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Session 18: Ethnoprimatology

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Author: Agustin Fuentes
Ethnoprimatology and Human-Monkey Interactions. Topics include human-nonhuman primate overlap, pathogen transmission, zones of sympatry and allopatry.

1.  Key Concepts:

"The holistic of approach of ethnoprimatology includes hunting of nonhuman primates for food, keeping nonhuman primates as pets, bidirectional pathogen exchange, the impacts of habitat alteration and crop raiding, indigenous knowledge of nonhuman primate behavior, and the incorporation of nonhuman primates into myths, folklore, and other narratives."

—Wolfe and Fuentes, 2007

2.  Terms & Definitions:

The multi-faceted interactions of human and nonhuman primates.
Cultural primatology
The study of primate cultural traditions.
The way ordinary people understand and categorize plants and animals.

3.  Ethnoprimatology and Human-Monkey Interactions:

Why is it so important to understand HP-NHP interconnections now?  Human populations continue to grow and other primates’ populations mostly shrink.  Disease transmission probabilities are higher than ever and conservation realities require immediate attention.

  • Overlap and Conflict.

  • Realities of Disease and Habitat Change.

  • Historical vs. Current cultural patterns.

Envisioning Human-Nonhuman Primate Overlap:

Understanding the interconnections between humans and non-human primates requires a spatial context as well as a temporal context.  The long-term sympatry or allopatry can result in shifting ecological pressures, especially as the spatial contexts shift with anthropogenic alterations.

  • Zones of Sympatry: Africa, Asia, Central and South America.
  • Zones of Allopatry : North America and Europe.

4.  Human-Nonhuman Primate Conflict:

Due to the high levels of interaction between humans and non-human primates in areas where they exist in sympatry, especially in areas of extremely high human density, non-human primates are often at the involved in negative interactions with humans.  This especially true in areas where monkeys exist as:

  • Agricultural Pests.
  • Urban monkeys.
  • Primates as food sources, resources, and profit.
  • Human forest & resource exploitation.

It is in these areas of co-occurring high human density and high non-human primate density that the risk of bi-directional pathogen transmission is greatest.  The shared evolutionary history between humans and non-human primates makes the risk of a pathogen host-jumping event highest in these areas.

  • Global “Hot Spots” exist in areas of high density primate populations.
  • Recent viral transmissions: SIV, SFV.

5.  Nonhuman Primates in Human Culture:

Long term interconnections

Non-human primates exist in multiple ways with humans.  In addition to humans sharing space with wild primates, humans have a unique relationship with primates as pets, prey items, and in myth and folklore.  In areas of allopatry (North America and Europe), non-human primates are seen as entertainment and as the "exotic other."  In areas of sympatry (Africa, Asia, and South America), primates figure more prominently in everyday life.


Pet monkey wearing clothes

Photo by Eric Hart. Some rights reserved.

Modern sympatry:  Land, Economies, and Belief systems:

Mother and baby on a wall

Photo by un-sung. Some rights reserved.

6. Macaque-Human interactions: Examples from Bali & Gibraltar

Wanara Wana Padangtegal:

  • South-Central Bali, Indonesia.
  • 3 groups of long-tailed macaques, Macaca fascicularis.
  • ~7 ha, mixed forest and temple complex, including three temples and various shrines.
  • Bordered by three towns, rice fields, road, and river.
  • 116 species of tree/shrub/liana (top three genera:  Artocarpus, Cocos and Ficus spp.).
  • Broken canopy max height ~35m.
  • Ground level: tree litter, dirt, stone paths--mixed cover.
  • Heavy Human use: local Balinese, Domestic and International Tourists.

Population Range and Temple Forest:

Padangtegal temple complex

Padangtegal temple complex

Padangtegal temple complex

Photos by A. Fuentes.

Disease Ecology of Macaque Human interconnections:

High density and range overlap may result in similar disease pressure and adaptation.  It also creates a potential crisis for interspecies pathogen transmission.  Within the macaques at Padangtegal, several disease outbreaks have been documented:

  1. streptococcus outbreak (1994, 2003).
  2. tuberculosis (2000-2001).
  3. measles and mumps.
  4. Herpes B virus.
  5. Simian Foamy Virus.

Human-macaque contact: Padangtegal (2000-2002)

  • Over 700 interactions.
  • Foreign tourists: ~5% bite rate, high contact rate.
  • Domestic tourists:~1% bite rate, high contact rate.
  • Local Balinese: very low bite rate, related to specific individuals/jobs.
  • Scratch rates are still undocumented.

Macaques’ aggression towards humans:

-X= significantly less than expected

+X= significantly more than expected

AG 1
AG 2 AG 4
AG collapsed
Bites AG 4 w/food
AG 4 w/o food
Bites w/ food
Bites w/o food
AM +x +x +x +x -x +x
AF -x -x -x -x -x -x -x
SAM +x +x +x +x
IMM -x -x -x -x

(Gamerl and Fuentes 2002)

Humans as recipients of aggression:

-X= significantly less than expected.

+X= significantly more than expected.

Collapsed Agression
Bites AM Bites
AF Bites SAM Bites
IMM Bites
AM +x +x +x +x
AF +x +x -x
CM -x

Biocultural differences result in distinct pathogen transmission potentials:

Foreign tourists in Bali Balinese temple staff and local users
-primarily European and Australian -Balinese
-well vaccinated -moderately well vaccinated
-recently traveled long distances -high exposure to antibiotics
-potentially semi-immuno-compromised -high familiarity with feral primates
-high exposure to antibiotics -daily/frequent exposure to macaques
-little familiarity/exposure to feral primates

Foreign tourists:

Foreign tourists participate in behaviors that elicit responses, often negative, from macaques, including:

  • Enticement and contact as cultural behavior

Monkey looking over a rail

Photo by micah craig. Some rights reserved.

  • Dress patterns
  • Contact behavior: the “startle” response
  • Post-contact dispersal

Balinese temple staff and local users:

  • Familiarity, high frequency of contact and “relaxed” behavioral responses
  • Preventative measures/education at Padangtegal:

Warning sign: do not feed or tease monkeys, etc.

Photo by A. Fuentes


Macaques in Gibraltar exhibit the same behavioral trends involving interactions with humans.  The high density of macaques in this small area, combined with the high level of foreign tourists that visit the area, result in a high level of interactions - including bites and scratches - with tourists.

Rock of Gibraltar

Photo by Daniel Palmer. Some rights reserved.

Ape surveys Gibraltar

Photo by James Cridland. Some rights reserved.

Gilbraltar monkey peering in a car window

Photo by lafalott. Some rights reserved.

Ape sitting on top of Upper Rock in Gibraltar, opening a candy package

Photo by Christian Köberl. Some rights reserved.

Issues to Consider of the Human-Primate Interface:

  • Macaque health
  • Management
  • Human impact
  • Pest/nuisance issues
  • Research
  • Local opinion
  • Tourism and economics

7.  Additional Material:

Required Reading:

Primates in Perspective.  2007.  C.J. Campbell, A. Fuentes, K.C. MacKinnon, M. Panger, S.K. Bearder.  Oxford University Press.

Chapter 43:  Ethnoprimatology: Contextualizing Human and Nonhuman Primate Interactions - Wolfe & Fuentes

Suggested Reading:

Primates Face to Face: The Conservation Implications of Human - Non-Human Primate Interconnections.  2002.  A. Fuentes and L.D. Wolfe.  Cambridge University Press. (preview)

Commensalism and Conflict: The Human-Primate Interface.  2005.  J.D. Paterson and J. Wallis, eds.  American Society of Primatologists.

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