Monkey love may teach us about humans: Study

By Hana Garrett-Walker

Golden snub-nosed monkeys cuddle to stay calm, New Zealand research is showing. Photo / Thinkstock
Golden snub-nosed monkeys cuddle to stay calm, New Zealand research is showing. Photo / Thinkstock

Humans could learn a thing or two from endangered Chinese monkeys that cuddle each other to calm the situation, Massey University researchers say.

Three Massey conservation biologists are studying varying aspects of the Sichuan, or golden snub-nosed monkey, which is found in forest-covered mountainous terrain in central China.

Chinese-born Weihong Ji, who is based at Massey University's Albany campus, has been studying the endangered monkey for more than 20 years, and is now supervising two postgraduate students who are looking at the monkeys' nutrition and changes in their vocal patterns.

Sichuan monkeys live in social groups of 100 or more, with the females determining the group formation by choosing which males join the extended family.

While observing the monkeys, the three researchers have noted the tree-dwelling monkey's distinctively amicable behaviour, including hugging each other to avoid tension and anger.

Massey doctoral researcher Brigitte Kreigenhofer has spent the past year collecting data on what the monkeys eat, and will now begin comparing wild monkeys' diets with those in captivity.

Dr Ji said eco-tourism was relatively new in China, and the impact of supplementary feeding on the monkeys was not yet known.

"The likely results include weight gain from altered nutritional balance - which we've already observed - and changes in social interaction."

Masters student Jonathan Cope will be studying the vocalisations of the monkeys.

"The cultural evolution of vocalisation is not genetic, so studying these dialect differences gives a good base for understanding what happens when population get moved around or fragmented," Mr Cope said.

He was currently wading through hundreds of hours of sound recordings.

He has identified calls to signal whereabouts, alarm, warning and to get attention.

However, there was one call which Mr Cope has not been able to identify - a low-pitched sigh, mostly voiced by males.

It was common among the monkeys he observed in Chinese zoos that were alone and in concrete cells, he said,

"But monkeys in the wild also make the sound, which...could have different meanings depending on the context."

The monkeys' inclination to hug each other was thought to have arisen as a mechanism to keep warm in minus 5 degree weather.

"They are very mellow and tolerant as species," Ms Kreigenhofer said.

"You can't help but fall in love with them."

A photo of a golden snub-nosed monkey is being used to advertise Auckland Museum's wildlife photographer of the year exhibition.

- APNZ

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf04 at 25 Oct 2014 22:31:14 Processing Time: 413ms