BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Primate tourism, an economic benefit and
conservation tool in many habitat countries, has exploded in
popularity over the past two decades in places like China, Borneo,
Uganda, Rwanda, Northern Sumatra, Madagascar, Gabon and Central
New research by scientists in the United States, China and
Japan, however, has found that some primate tourism practices are
inappropriate because they provoke an unprecedented level of adult
aggression that is proving deadly for infant monkeys.
The 19-year study, "Primate Tourism, Range Restriction and
Infant Risk Among Macaca thibetana at Mt. Huangshan, China"
augments findings by previous researchers that some forms of
wildlife tourism are counterproductive because they lead to disease
transmission, disrupt social behavior and actually increase the
risk of habitat destruction.
The authors are Carol Berman, Ph.D., professor of anthropology
at the University at Buffalo, and Consuel Ionica, Ph.D., UB
Department of Anthropology; Jinhua Li and Huabao Yin, School of
Life Sciences, Anhui University, China, and Hideshi Ogawa, Faculty
of Liberal Arts, Chukyo University, Japan.
The study, which will be published in the October edition of the
International Journal of Primatology, draws two primary
One is that infant mortality is a useful indicator of the impact
of primate tourism on primate groups. The second is that the
specific practice of combining range restriction with provisioning
(stocking food in a particular area of the range to increase
tourist viewing opportunities) is inappropriate for primate
The subjects of the study were Tibetan macaques, Old World
monkeys that belong to the world's most widespread primate genus.
The group under observation lives in the Mt. Huangshan Scenic Area
in China's Anhui province.
Like most primates used for tourism, the Huangshan Tibetan
macaques were subjected to various management practices, which
Berman says involved relocating them to a new area adjacent to
their natural range, providing them with regular provisions in a
specific location, restricting their range to varying degrees and
exposing them to greater numbers of staff and tourists.
The research team observed the monkeys for six years before they
were used for tourism (1986-91), for 12 years during which they
were used for tourism (1992-2002 and 2004) and for one year (2003)
during which tourism was suspended.
Infant mortality was virtually nil in the six years before
management began, Berman says, noting that the only significant
death rate for infants was in 1988 when disease swept the group
killing four of six infants.
Infant mortality went up to about 20 percent in 1992 when the
group was translocated. During the years of management (1992-2002,
2004) it fluctuated considerably, but peaked sharply twice: in
1994, the year that tourism and consistent range restriction began,
and in 2002, the year in which the group's range was severely
restricted. It decreased sharply in 2003, the year management was
The overall rate of infant mortality during management years was
54.6 percent, significantly higher than the 14.8 percent rate of
The researchers found that the increases in infant death rates
were related to adult aggression toward the young monkeys following
fights among adults in the provisioning area, and that the
aggressive behavior was related to level of range restriction
(inconsistent, consistent, severe) at various times during the
It also found that most of the infants who died during
management were severely injured shortly before their deaths. No
infant deaths were attributed to wounding before 1992, the year
that management for tourism began.
"Infant mortality rates during the management years were
significantly higher than they were in the years before management
began and also in the year in which it was suspended," Berman says,
pointing out that monkeys with artificially reduced ranges become
highly dependent on provisioned food and are likely to compete
intensely over it.
"After management began, we observed serious attacks on infants
shortly before they were found dead and a large proportion of
infant corpses had bite wounds," Berman says.
"Typically, infants were wounded after aggression broke out
among adults in the provisioning area used for tourist viewing,"
she says, "and adult aggression rates in the provisioning area were
positively correlated with infant mortality over time.
"We did not witness each attack on the infants, but we had no
reason to believe that the infant injuries were caused by poaching,
attacks by tourists or staff, capture, predation or inter-group
aggression between the infants," she says.
"The team tested several hypotheses about the affects of
specific factors on infant mortality, among them, numbers of
tourists, degree of range restriction, demographic changes, changes
in alpha males -- factors that may have been harmful to the
Berman says, "We found that range restriction alone accounted
for 54 percent of the variation in infant mortality and that it was
more closely associated with both mortality and aggression than any
other factor examined."
The study found that rates of female-female aggression,
male-male aggression and female-male aggression all were notably
higher when the monkeys were in the provisioning area than when
they were in the forest, away from that area. It found, too, that
there was a strong positive correlation between high rates of
infant mortality and both high rates of adult aggression and
relative degrees of range restriction.
Post hoc analyses suggested that rates of aggression in the
provisioning area were significantly lower before translocation and
in the early period of management when tourists were absent and
range restriction was inconsistent, than when tourism and
consistent range restriction were in full force. Aggression rates
were significantly higher during 2002 (when the group's range was
severely restricted) than in any other time period.
"Primate tourism has been praised for its potential to achieve
conservation goals and financial and educational benefits for local
communities," Berman says, "but there has been little research
about its impact on the primate groups themselves, which is why we
undertook this evaluation.
"We would like to believe that primate tourism can be beneficial
to both human economic and conservation interests, but it is
imperative that we understand which specific practices serve those
ends and which are counterproductive," she says.
Even before the study by Berman and colleagues, conservation
biologists argued that stress caused by contact with large numbers
of people has detrimental effects on the behavior and biology of
wild primates, and sometimes resulted in the primates avoiding
tourist areas altogether.
"In addition," Berman says, "overhabituation and hyperaggression
often result in changes in the primates' habitat activity patterns
and communicative behavior. This in turn can affect predator-prey
relationships, intergroup relationships, diet or social
"The strongest reason for caution involves disease
transmission," she says, "because close contact has been blamed for
outbreaks of disease among monkeys, great apes and humans.
"In addition to infant death, disease transmission and the
disruptive consequences on their activity, relationships and social
development, primate tourism also may contribute to habitat
destruction," she says, "particularly when tourism demands result
in the housing and feeding of tourists within the normal primate
Berman is the author "Kinship and Behavior in
Primates" (Oxford University Press, New York, 2004), and of
many journal articles and book chapters. She teaches graduate
and undergraduate courses in primate social behavior, animal
communication, ethology and advanced physical anthropology.
Besides primate tourism, her interests include offspring relations,
social structure, dominance style and conflict
management among Old World monkeys and apes. She currently is
engaged in research on parent-offspring relations among
free-ranging rhesus monkeys on Cayo Santiago, Puerto Rico, and on
dominance-style patterns among the Huangshan macaques.
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