A Scottish zoo is planning to start a new breeding programme for chimpanzees, in the wake of recent research suggesting that captivity drives chimps mad.
The plan for new chimpanzee breeding at Blair Drummond Safari Park near Stirling follows findings from the University of Kent showing that serious behavioural abnormalities – “some of which could be compared to mental illness in humans” – are endemic among captive chimpanzees.
The research, focusing on 40 chimps in six leading but unnamed zoos in the UK and the US, found that all the animals studied engaged in abnormal behaviour, which included self-mutilation, repetitive rocking, the eating of faeces and drinking of urine. The chimps came from many different backgrounds, and the researchers were unable to isolate any single cause, other than the one thing they all had in common – that they were in captivity.
"We suggest that captivity itself may be fundamental as a causal factor in the presence of persistent, low-level, abnormal behaviour – and potentially more extreme levels in some individuals," said the leader of the study, Nicholas Newton-Fisher, an expert in wild chimpanzee behaviour.
But the findings, published in the online science journal PLoS ONE, are not deterring the Blair Drummond Safari Park, which already has chimpanzees Chippy and his half-sister Rosie, born there 23 years ago, and wishes to bring in a new female in the hope that she and Chippy will mate.
"I do not believe that captivity is inherently bad for chimpanzees," said head keeper Alasdair Gillies. "There may be individuals in captivity who do display abnormal behaviour, but I think that is likely to be a result of their background. These abnormal behaviours could be learned culturally – chimps often imitate other chimps."
Mr Gillies added: “We will be pressing ahead with our breeding programme.”
The Blair Drummond chimps live on a large wooded island on a lake at the park. The park believes they are of the subspecies Pan troglodytes verus, the western chimpanzee, and DNA tests are being carried out to establish this.
"They are quite rare, with not many in zoos in Europe," said the park manager, Gary Gilmour. "If it turns out that they are western chimpanzees, it would be very important from a conservation and breeding point of view. With around 30,000 left in the wild, and with deforestation in their habitat, and chimps being killed for bush meat and also taken for the pet trade, numbers are still decreasing, so we have to have stable groups in captivity for the future."
Read More at The Independent
Expedition In Amazon Discovers Possible New Species In Mid-Western Brazil
A possible new species of monkey has been discovered during an expedition in an unexplored part of the Amazon in mid-western Brazil.
A specimen, which scientists know is a type of Callicebus, or titi, monkey has been turned over to experts at the Emílio Goeldi Museum in the Brazilian state of Para, where it will be studied and formally described.
"This primate has features on its head and tail that have never been observed before in other Titi Monkey species found in the same area," said Julio Dalpone, the biologist who discovered the monkey during the World Wide Fund for Nature-backed expedition.
The expedition found the monkey between the Guariba River and the Roosevelt River in the northwestern part of the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso.
In the film, scientists use chimp subjects in a gene therapy experiment that triggers the growth of new brain cells. That makes some of the chimps act a lot like humans - adopting language, writing and drawing. Which raises the question: If chimpanzees got brainier, would they start acting like humans? And if we tweaked a few chimp genes, could we endow them with the ability to speak, organize in groups and seize the Golden Gate Bridge?
Some experts say it’s not so far-fetched while others say more neurons are not enough to get our nearest animal relatives to discuss philosophy.
Apes can be trained to use sign language, said New York University psychologist Gary Marcus, but they don’t have much ability or inclination to put together complex combinations of words, convey ideas or tell stories.
They tend to live in the present and focus on their needs, he said. They say they want more bananas, or they want to be tickled, not, “I wonder what would happen if France defaulted.”
Those differences are reversed in the classic 1968 movie, for which the new “Rise” is a prequel. There, the humans were mute while the talking apes practiced religion and science and struggled with the implications of evolution and the use of humans in research.
That movie and its sequels inspired Chet Sherwood to become an anthropologist so he could learn “how evolution has operated to make humans so different from apes.”
The most striking difference is brain size, said Sherwood, now of George Washington University. The human brain is 3X times larger than a chimp’s. Sherwood said there are people with a developmental defect that leaves them with a chimp-sized brain, and while they have some deficits, they far outperform chimps at language.
"There seems to be something about human brain development and wiring and function" that gives us distinctive capacities for language and symbolic thought, he said.
Others point to the fact that Neanderthal people had brains slightly larger than ours yet left no evidence that they were capable of art or symbolic thought.
Our ancestors, too, looked “anatomically modern” for the last 200,000 years, but they acted pretty much like other primates until about 100,000 years ago, said Ian Tattersall, an anthropologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Only then is there evidence of symbolic thought in the form of pierced shell beads and ochre paints.
What’s weird, experts say, is that there’s no apparent trigger for this profound change. Our ancestors were living in Africa, looking more or less like us, and then started making things for no obvious reason.
And yet, at that juncture, we humans began remaking the world in our own minds, Tattersall said, while other branches on the human family tree did not - showing that just getting a big brain didn’t automatically mean language or symbolism or art would follow. “We are not super chimpanzees,” he said.
Another open question is why our brains got so big compared with those of other apes. There’s a downside to having a big brain, said Sherwood, because it takes more energy to run than any other organ. There must be some advantage to it.
Some have argued that varied climates required early hominids to be craftier, while others say the cleverer among our ancestors would have attracted more mates and outreproduced their rivals.
One possible explanation is that the human inclination to form families and involve dads in child care allowed brain expansion to happen for us and not other apes, said Pennsylvania State University anthropologist Philip Reno.
If you look at other primates, he said, the brainiest have the longest periods of childhood dependence.
Chimps, with their relatively high intelligence, take five or six years to become independent. Since the mothers get little help, they can handle only one offspring at a time, making them very slow at reproduction.
Humans changed the equation by enlisting the help of fathers. That way, Reno said, children can stay dependent even longer than young chimps, and yet a human female can keep making babies every couple of years or so.
In other words, the no-strings-attached mating strategy of male chimps might be limiting their brainpower.
Another way scientists are chipping away at the problem is through genetics. NYU’s Marcus has done research on a gene, called FOXP2, that differs between humans and other mammals and appears to be involved in language capacity. People with a defect in this gene have difficulty with aspects of language.
Further studies, he said, show that FOXP2 influences the action of dozens of other genes. “It’s near the top of a cascade,” he said. It’s not a genetic change that just popped up and gave us language.
Penn State’s Reno, too, is scouring through the genome. He said the recipe for making a chimp is nearly identical to the one for making a human, except that the quantities of the ingredients are different.
He’s recently compared the genetic codes of humans, chimps, monkeys and mice. What he’s found are dozens of differences in areas that “regulate” development.
He identified one part that influences the way the brain kills off excess cells during development. In humans, that process is ramped down, suggesting our brains are sculpted with a finer chisel.
Tweaking these genes in a chimp might help illuminate our own evolution, but our own cultural evolution has made such an experiment feel unethical.
Back in the 1950s, scientists removed parts of chimps’ brains to see how they worked, said Sherwood. Now they argue whether it’s ethical to put them through brain scanning experiments, since, unlike people, apes won’t sit still without being anesthetized.
"We know these are sophisticated and emotionally sensitive animals," he said.
Some scientist have even taken a position that they wouldn’t do any experiment on a chimp they wouldn’t consider doing on a human. That follows the message of the original movie and the prequel: Treat them as you’d like them to treat you in case they ever take over the world.
Cultural Transmission : Orangutans wash, cool off, and do 'housework'
An Orangutan at Tokyo’s Tama Zoo has become an Internet star thanks to a video that shows the tidy primate cleaning itself with a washcloth.
The two-minute clip, shot on an 86 degree day at the zoo, shows the orangutan dipping a washcloth in water, ringing it out and wiping its face and upper body. The primate even mops up spilt water droplets afterward.
A smaller orangutan carefully watches and wants to check out the washcloth, but is gently moved aside.
Most likely, the adult orangutan was taught this behavior — since the washcloth was provided — but it appears to be acting spontaneously, putting his knowledge to good use on a hot day when a cleansing cool-off was refreshing.
Since the little orangutan was watching, the behavior will most likely be passed down. Some years ago, Duke University scientists proved that orangutans have culture, permitting them to learn new things and share that knowledge with others.
Carel van Schaik of Duke and colleagues presented evidence for cultural transmission of 24 behaviors among orangutans. These include:
— using leaves as protective gloves or napkins; — using sticks to poke into tree holes to obtain insects, to extract seeds from fruit or to scratch body parts; — using leafy branches to swat insects or gather water; — “snag-riding,” the orangutan equivalent of a sport in which the animals ride falling dead trees, grabbing vegetation before the tree hits the ground; — emitting sounds such as “raspberries,” or “kiss-squeaks,” in which leaves or hands are used to amplify the sound; — building sun covers for nests or, during rain, bunk nests above the nests used for resting.
In the above cases, I believe the orangutans were just using what was available to them in the wild. If such studies include zoo chimps, which have access to human “tools” like washcloths, the list could probably go on and on.
The last common ancestor of humans and orangutans is thought to have lived about 15 million years ago, so the primate drive to learn and share knowledge (even if it’s via unwanted eavesdropping) go way back. We share 96.4 percent of our DNA with orangutans.
Van Schaik said such findings “suggest that the first ancestral man-apes must have had a pretty solid evolutionary cultural foundation on which to build.”
Environment helps in that process. The orangutan exhibit at the Tama Zoo opened on April 28, 2005 and took almost 2 years and around 1 billion yen to build, according to Tokyo Guidebook. The exhibit includes a tall “Sky Walk” where the orangutans can swing across towers between living areas. If orangutans poke sticks into a large ant hill-type structure, they are rewarded with a sticky paste, similar to how they’d be rewarded with ants in the wild. The orangutans even have a vending machine that they operate to get drinks for themselves.
Here you can see the primates cleaning away, doing housekeeping as well as personal cleanup. (I like how this elderly female, “Gypsy,” has to sniff the cloth after most wipes.) She also shows how versatile a straw hat can be, since she first uses it as a head topper, next as a toy/edible, and finally as a container and mold for soil.
Infant Stress In Monkeys Has Life-long Consequences
Baby monkeys grew up anxious and anti-social after the stress of separation from their mothers, a study says.
It suggests changes to the brains of infant monkeys may be irreversible, and the study could be a model for humans.
An early shock to the system may leave the monkeys prone to a life of anxiety, poor social skills and depression.
But the work could point the way to better management and treatment of those who live with a legacy of “early adversity”.
The report, published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that rhesus monkey babies do not fully recover from the stress of being separated from their mothers at birth.
Some baby monkeys had to be cared for separately if they were at risk from an inexperienced mother, the mother lacked breast milk or the baby would not survive in rainy, cold weather.
But even after three years of living a normal social life following the separation, levels of the stress-coping hormone cortisol in these monkeys remained significantly reduced and their bodies’ response to stressful events was slower.
In monkeys and humans, cortisol is released in stressful situations to mobilise energy stores and aid survival.
But sustained stress and prolonged release of cortisol can lead to severe impairment of some brain regions as they develop.
The baby monkeys that suffered the stress of separation from their mothers went on to be more anxious and less sociable than monkeys that were raised by their mothers.
This study is unique in demonstrating that, for monkeys, the negative effects of separation in infancy cannot be reversed by a later normal social life, write the authors.
Paignton Zoo Gorilla Helps Make Charity Walking Sticks
Walking sticks ‘made’ be a Gorilla at a Devon Zoo are being sold to help ape conservation.
Kumbuka, a 13-year-old lowland gorilla at Paignton Zoo, helps by stripping the bark off lengths of hazel.
The stick is then retrieved by keepers and finished off by Dave Ellacott, a warden at Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust.
The varnished walking sticks are sold on eBay, with the money going to help protect the endangered species.
Craig Gilchrist, Paignton Zoo’s head keeper, said: “The gorillas love to chew, gnaw and strip the bark off sticks.
"He broke most of the sticks we gave him, but some of the chunkier ones were okay."
Dr Kirsten Pullen, a research officer for the conservation trust, said: “I have seen a few gorilla sticks sold at specialist gorilla conferences to raise funds for conservation, but this is a rare chance for the wider public to bid for an extraordinary object with a direct link to a named gorilla.”
A chimpanzee broke out of her enclosure at a zoo in England and pilfered the zoo’s kitchen, officials say.
It took Twycross Zoo staff members 40 minutes to calm Josie the chimp after she was found smashing pots and pans, and throwing food at employees in the kitchen at the Atherstone, England, zoo, The Sun reported Monday.
"Josie decided she wanted an extra snack and managed to get into the back kitchen area within the chimpanzee building, where her food is usually prepared. We are not entirely sure how she managed it but a full investigation is under way," said a zoo spokeswoman, who added that "At no time were either Josie or the public in any danger."
Researchers working in Uganda say they have unearthed the well-preserved fossil skull of an ancient primate.
The 20 million-year-old specimen comes from the site of an extinct volcano in Uganda’s north-east Karamoja region.
The scientists say preliminary analysis showed the tree-climbing herbivore was roughly 10 years old when it died.
The skull is about the same size as that of a chimp, but its brain was smaller.
"It is a highly important fossil and it will certainly put Uganda on the map in terms of the scientific world," Martin Pickford, a palaeontologist from the College de France in Paris, told journalists in Kampala.
Dr Pickford and his colleague Brigitte Senut say the fossil skull belonged to a creature they call Ugandapithecus major.
Professor Senut, a professor at the French National Museum of Natural History said that the remains would be taken to Paris to be X-rayed and documented before being returned to Uganda.
"It will be cleaned in France, it will be prepared in France… and then in about one year’s time it will be returned to the country," she said.
The remote and arid region of Karamoja is one of the least developed in Uganda.
Born May 13th at the UK’s Linton Zoo, this rare baby Mongoose Lemur, named “Tia,” has just begun to adventure about her exhibit. Both Mum “Maggie” aged 16, and 21 year old dad “Henry” are clearly pleased with the new arrival. “Megan” their five year old daughter is as excited as any sibling would be. She too is helping out with the daily care of her new sister and as well as having a boisterous new play mate, she is gaining lots of essential parental skills ready for when she too becomes a mum.
Like all lemurs, Mongoose Lemurs are native to Madagascar. However unlike all but one other lemur species, Mongoose Lemurs can also be found outside of Madagascar on the Island of Comoros.
A special European breeding programmed aimed at saving this species from from extinction is managed at Linton Zoo. Careful co-ordination and constant monitoring of the European population with recommendations on various husbandry techniques and diets is beginning to pay off and Linton Zoo is very proud to successfully breed this wonderful lemur again. This baby is the first born in the captive population for over four years!
Orangutans Observed Smoking Cigarettes Given Plastic Bin Bags To Play With
Investigators following up on a previous visit to an animal park in Malaysia where they observed an orangutan smoking cigarettes have been disappointed by what they have seen.
Sean Whyte, Chief Executive of Nature Alert, says: “Providing orangutans with enough enrichment on a daily basis is neither difficult or costly.”
Johor Zoo adult orangutans Shirley and Abu had been given plastic bin liners to play with. While orangutans do need objects to keep them occupied, plastic bags are not suitable items to enrich their lives.
“What kind of educational or conservation message does watching orangutans surrounded with black bags give to visitors, especially children? Are children going to grow up thinking orangutans move around the forests carrying black plastic bags to keep the rain off them?
“One is left to wonder if this is this what the Johor Zoo management believe.”
Whyte continues: “For Abu, with his thick coat of hair, his dungeon-like prison cell must be like an oven. Every day he sits there 24/7 with nothing to do.
“Keepers claim to let him out only two days a week, but we have never seen outside.”
How sad. This is no way to treat any animal whatsoever- let alone one as magnificent, intelligent, and precious as the Orangutan. Instead of being kept in this zoo for conservation, breeding, and educative purposes, they are being treated as cheap entertainment to draw in the crowds. — PrimateWin x
Did shrinking guts and high-energy food help us evolve enormous, powerful brains? The latest round in the row over what’s known as the “expensive tissue hypothesis” says no. But don’t expect that to settle the debate.
The hypothesis has it that in order to grow large brains relative to body size, our ancestors had to free up energy from elsewhere - perhaps by switching to rich foods like nuts and meat, which provide more calories and require less energy to break down, or possibly by learning to cook: cooked food also requires less energy to digest.
Kari Allen and Richard Kay of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, turned to New World monkeys to explore the hypothesis. Previous studies offer a wealth of data on the monkeys’ diets and show that their brain size varies greatly from species to species. But when the pair controlled for similarities between related species, they found no correlation between large brains and small guts.
As Robin Dunbarat the University of Oxford points out: “It is one thing to say that the hypothesis doesn’t apply to New World monkeys, and another to extrapolate that to humans.”
The willingness to help strangers and not expect anything in return is supposed to be a uniquely human characteristic but scientists have shown that chimps are also capable of altruism.
A study of chimpanzees kept at a primate research centre in the United States has for the first time found that, under certain circumstances, captive apes will help other individuals without appearing to expect any benefit from their generosity.
Previous studies on captive chimpanzees have seemingly failed to find any evidence of altruism in our closest living relative, although scientists observing chimp behaviour in the wild have documented instances where unrelated individuals will help others in an apparently unselfish manner.
The researchers suggest that the failure to find so-called “prosocial” traits in captivity was due to poorly designed experiments. A much simpler experiment has shown that female chimps will help a companion without necessarily wanting something in return.
"For the past decade we have lived with the curious situation – frustrating for many chimpanzee field workers and observers – that chimps are well known for spontaneous acts of altruism, yet have not shown the same tendencies in well-controlled experiments," said Professor Frans de Waal of the Yerkes National Primate Research Centre, in Atlanta, Georgia. Failure to find prosocial behaviour in chimps led scholars to suggest that altruism had evolved only in humans after the time when the two species shared a common ancestor, about six million years ago. Altruism, in other words, was uniquely human, associated with a large brain and higher intelligence.
"The negative outcome of previous experiments has led some to postulate that chimps lack prosocial tendencies altogether and that such tendencies therefore arose only in the last six million years in the human lineage, a view now popular with anthropologists, economists, and some psychologists," Professor de Waal said.
"I have always been sceptical of the previous negative findings and their overinterpretation. This study confirms the prosocial nature of chimpanzees with a different test, better adapted to the species," he said.
The evolution of altruism in the animal kingdom has posed something of a problem for “selfish-gene” evolutionists, who say it can only come about if it is done to help a close relative, or if some reciprocation is likely.
The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, involved a simple food experiment where seven female chimps could choose between keeping food parcels to themselves or ensuring that a female companion also had a banana.
"We were excited to find that female after female chose the option that gave both her and her partner food," said Victoria Horner, the Yerkes researcher who led the study.
Source The Independent
Bundle of Good News For Last Surviving Baboon Species
Howletts Animal Park near Canterbury in England is home to three Gelada Baboons – one male, named Agolo, and two females named Jima and Sereba. Keepers were thrilled when they discovered that Sereba had been successfully mated by Agolo resulting in the birth of a male baby named Leena. Agolo and Sereba have proved themselves to be very successful parents while Jima has taken on the role of Aunt to help out hardworking Mum and Dad.
Primate Keeper Jamie Wharton said: “It’s great watching Leena investigate his open-top enclosure and graze with his parents. As he gets older he will develop an impressive mane like his father.” As the male Gelada develop they grow a mantle (a mane of hair) that surrounds their head and neck.
Neil Spooner, Animal Director, said “These baboons are quite unique in that they are the last surviving species of grass grazing primates. To have a successful birth is great news for the future.”
Geladas are not true baboons. They are the last surviving species of a once widespread group of grass-grazing primates and are the only surviving member of their genus. They can only be found in Ethopia in rocky highland habitat and are listed as least concern on the IUCN Red list of endangered species.The Gelada baboons will live in large groups consisting of one male and several females with their young. Females give birth to a single offspring after a gestation period of five months.