Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Baby Monkey Faces & Feeding Time
Baby monkeys, to me, are some of the cutest critters on the planet so I was really excited when I got to see them at the hot springs in Japan. The one to the left and on the left in the above pic was having fun soaking in the water until her little friend left. I caught her mid-holler when she was crying out. She carried on crying for quite a while until deciding her friend wasn't coming back. Then she just got out of the pool and ran off. That was just one of many instances of vocalizations I heard at the monkey park. It was raucous at one point during food distribution - monkeys chasing each other, fighting, shrieking, biting, wrestling, mounting — you name it.
Wild monkeys are provisioned in Japan. Provisioning, or giving the monkeys food, is a technique for getting monkeys to stick around close for closer, and longer, periods of observation. It's a much criticized technique in primatology because it distorts natural monkey behavior, i.e. creating situations that would otherwise not occur. Nevertheless, it is used because sometimes it is the only way to actually observe monkeys in the wild. Jane Goodall used the technique during her early observations of chimpanzees and was criticized for it, but it did help her gain the trust of the chimps and allowed her to accumulate a wealth of previously unknown knowledge of their behavior. Her observations are now widely accepted. Also, zoo and laboratory observations and studies continue to make up a good deal of research in primatology and they are surely a lot less ecologically valid. Anyways, enough primatology methodology talk - back to the monkeys!
During the winter in Japan, food is scarce for the snow monkeys. But, provisioning is not something done to keep the monkeys alive and fed during this time. They eat mostly bark and whatever leaves or winter shoots they scrounge up. Monkeys also bulk up in the months prior to winter and babies are born in advance enough to make it through the rough winter. Together, it's enough to get them through the lean months.
As I learned at the park, snow monkeys are provisioned with less desirable food than is available in the wild. So, sometimes during the fat months, monkeys don't even bother to come down for the easily available barley when the have berries in the forest.