Week 16: Primate Live Feeds



           For this week I watched the live feed of the orangutans and siamangs at the San Diego zoo. The enclosure for them seemed quite large; the camera was zoomed in on these man-made metal play sets. They looked like trees made out of pipes with ropes and hammocks hanging from their “branches”. The enclosure was outdoors so the inhabitants could enjoy the sun and fresh air. Real trees also surrounded it so they had a forest-like atmosphere. I do not think they had any real trees in their area. The camera was operated by someone so it was almost always zoomed in on one of the inhabitants. While I was watching the main subject of interest was an adult female orangutan named Indah carrying her daughter Aisha. Indah was in one of the man-made trees for the majority of the time I watched her. She was also always munching on vegetation, so I am assuming it is constantly provided to them. Aisha was always attached ventrally to her mother and sat and ate vegetation with Indah.  I was lucky enough to witness one of their feeding times. They got thrown various vegetables like cabbage and lettuce. I only saw one other orangutan with Indah and Aisha at this time so I am assuming there is just the three of them in the enclosure.

            Overall, I feel like this is one of the better zoo environments I have seen. The enclosure seemed plenty spacious and stimulating. It provided them with space to move and get away if they desired. It also has the tree-like structures to encourage climbing. I did not witness any stereotypical behavior such as pacing, regurgitating food and hair plucking. They all seemed to be exhibiting normal behaviors. The orangutans that I could see spent most if their time relaxing in the structures and eating food. 

           I think this particular habitat is sufficient for the animals, and it is one of the most accommodating ones I have seen; however it is still a relatively small area for the orangutans to be living for their entire lives. As far as education and conservation, I think this enclosure is a good way to see real orangutans and teach people about them, but I personally feel that the wild is always the best place for them. Aisha is still an infant so she was born recently. That being the case the orangutans appear to be doing well in captivity.  I just think that it will be nearly impossible to release captive born species back into the wild, especially ones that grow up in environments like this. This is one of the better zoo environments and I still feel like they deserve so much more.

            The second live feed I watched was of golden lion tamarins at the Atlanta zoo. Their enclosure was much different. The camera was stationed and didn’t move around like the previous one, so various tamarins would leap in and out of view. From what I could see, their enclosure was fairly small and indoors. It had foliage painted on the walls to make it look like a jungle. I feel like this effect was more for the visitors than it was the tamarins. In the view of the camera you can see a large tree branch that appears to be real. The branch also had a small bowl attached to it, which I am assuming contained food. This enclosure seems less suitable to me because I feel that it is too small. I can’t see the entire enclosure so it may be bigger but from what I can see it is fairly small. The tamarins were playing with each other and running around. I didn’t see any unusual behavior so they all seemed to be thriving. That being said I think that they would benefit from more space and actually living outdoors among real foliage, or better yet in the wild.

Photo credits  


Week 15: Fossey Archives (conservation)



           Conservation is becoming an increasingly important topic in primatology today. Forests are shrinking and habitats are being destroyed at an increasingly alarming rate.  This week I looked at the Dian Fossey archives to get some insight on conservation.

            The article a chose was a letter Dian Fossey wrote to a man named Robert. The letter was typed just after Digit’s death. Digit was one of Dian Fossey’s favorite gorillas and he had been featured in many different tourist advertisements. He had even been filmed stealing her equipment and being playful when he was a child. In this article Dian Fossey was very clearly angry, hurt, and upset. I think the most frustrating part for her was that there was little she could do. However, this did not stop her from trying several different techniques to increase conservation.

            In the beginning of the letter she says, “I’ve spent most of my time at the typewriter as this is something I think the worlds need to know about, especially the bloody conservation societies who continue putting money into rotten a rotten park system that doesn’t do any work.”. The main thing that Dian Fossey is worried and focused on is awareness. At this time in history there was little known about gorillas so she is mainly focused on getting information out to the public and the so called “conservation societies”.  She made postcards and fliers advertising Digit’s death in order to get a rise out of people. Along with this she decided to make a Digit fund to raise money to find and capture the poachers that were brutally murdering her beloved gorillas.  The last thing mentioned in the article was the continuation of her own personal patrolling of the forest for the poachers. Dian Fossey was never one to trust other people to get her work done. She constantly had her team keep a look out for poachers and would even follow their tracks at times. In the article she says that the poachers should be thrown in jail for life, or preferably killed. That is how strongly she felt about this subject.

           I think that Dian Fossey had the right idea about making people aware of the issues, however sometimes that is not enough. Now-a-days people are constantly bombarded with people asking for donations and stating that their cause is the most worthy. People tend to tap out and ignore them all. As far as primate conservation goes I think it is extremely important to capitalize on their similarities with us and not just tell but show people the issues. Dian Fossey used striking images of Digit’s death to gain sympathy and concern. People react best when they are given an individual to relate to and then given specific information on how to help.  I think that by making events and starting clubs we can raise awareness and therefore give people an easy way to help. If enough people get involved they can really make a difference. I also think that the media can be an important tool when it comes to conservation because it is so influential in American life today. The media is almost in charge of what we deem important, so by getting them to highlight conservation issues, we could make a huge difference. 

           Dian Fossey may have taken some extreme approaches to conservation but her heart was in a good place. She cared so deeply for these gorillas and she knew she was one of the only people who truly did. Her struggle, however, was not in vain. She has made their perils known around the world and contributed amazing strides in conservation. I think it is important that we learn from her and continue the always-present struggle of conservation.  


Fossey, D. “Letter to Robert .January 2 , 1978” Dian Fossey Collection: Box 14. Howard T.P. Hayes Special Collections. Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC. Accessed April 29, 2014. Print.

Week 14: Polyspecific Associations


       With Habitats being forced closer and closer together, it’s no wonder we are seeing more and more polyspecific Associations. Polyspecific Associations are associations between two or more different species that involves behavioral changes by at least one of the participating species. Polyspecific associations can provide foraging benefits, which increases foraging efficiency between species with overlapping diets.(Strier,2000) They can also provide predator protection which obviously helps them stay alive and out of danger’s way. The two species I have chosen to focus on for this topic are Squirrel Monkeys and Brown Capuchin Monkeys. Their Polysepecific association provides foraging benefits to the Squirrel Monkeys.


       Squirrel Monkeys are small Browinish-grey monkeys that all have a white “mask” around their eyes. They are insectivores and frugivores meaning that they consume mostly insects and fruit(Lang, 2006). They will also supplement their diet with small vertebrates, nectar, flowers, buds, seeds, leaves, and gum. They usually have intense within-group competition because they mainly feed on fruit, which grows in dense patches that can easily be monopolized(lang,2006). They typically spend more than half of their day traveling and looking for insects. They spend around 11% of their day feeding on nectar and fruit. Another 10% of their day is spent resting(Lang 2006). The remainder of the day is spent doing other activities, such as socializing and grooming. The main predators of the Squirrel monkey are Snakes and Raptors. The average life expectancy is 15-25 years.(Lang,2006)


       Brown Capuchin Monkeys are small to medium sized, and like their name suggests they are typically a dark brown shade. Brown Capuchins are Omnivores, meaning they like to eat meat, fruits, and vegetables (Capuchin 2014). They will eat almost anything they can catch including insects, lizards, and bird eggs(Capuchin, 2014). Brown Capuchins spend the majority of their day foraging for food as well, just like the Squirrel Monkeys. They however will break up their searching for a mid-day nap.(Capuchin,2014) The Main Predators of the Capuchin Monkeys are Jaguars, Cougars, Snakes, Crocodiles, and Raptors(Capuchin,2014).  The average life expectancy is similar to that of the Squirrel monkey in that it is also 15-25 years.

       These two monkeys have many differences, but they also share some similarities. The Squirrel Monkey and the Brown Capuchins have a Polyspecific association. Their particular association is mostly one-sided. By this I mean that one species gains access to resources that may be inaccessible if it was on its own. In Peru the smaller squirrel monkeys hang around the larger capuchins. At first glance this might seem strange because the Capuchins can “supplant the squirrel monkeys at contested resources.”(strier,2000)  This would appear to make food less accessible to the squirrel monkeys, however the squirrel monkeys stick around because they are able to feed off of the remnants of some of the Capuchin’s foods.  The Brown Capuchins have very strong jaws that allow them to crack open hard palm nuts (Strier, 2000). Squirrel monkeys do not have the strength to open such nuts. These nuts are important to the diet of Capuchins during the times of the year when fruit is scarce.(Strier,2000) Therefore, the Squirrel monkeys maintain these associations in order to gain access if the precious nuts that the Capuchins have dropped or discarded without having to do any of the work. As you can see, the Brown Capuchins aren’t getting anything out of the association, but they also aren’t being hurt by it. This reduces competition between the two species because they both aren’t fighting for available fruits and nuts. The Squirrel monkeys are just acting as scavengers.


Lang, Kristina C. “Squirrel MonkeySaimiri.” Primate Factsheets: Squirrel Monkey (Saimiri) Taxonomy, Morphology, & Ecology. N.p., 16 Mar. 2006. Web


Strier, Karen B. Primate Behavioral Ecology. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2000. Print.


“Capuchin Monkey Information and Facts:.” Capuchin Monkey. N.p., n.d.  web


 “Capuchin Monkey.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 16 Apr. 2014. Web

Picture Credits 




Week 13: How do we assess cognition?


       After watching Ape Genius and doing the readings it has become increasingly evident to me that studying cognition is no simple task. There are varying degrees of how deep animals think and it can be difficult to discern motives and reasons for doing things.

       When assessing cognition as a whole, researchers look at three main categories. The first involves mechanisms and devices to test and develop primate cognition that requires manipulation of the objects and reasoning. The second category is best studied in the wild because it involves spatial memory and tool use. Both of these are important skills for the survival of some apes. Lastly, researchers look at negotiation, manipulation and deception, which can have social advantages if executed well (Strier,2000).

       In the movie, the researchers focused mostly on chimpanzees but featured other apes as well. Several methods and studies were shown, testing different degrees and types of cognition. Most of the experiments involved some sort of mechanism that the ape had to figure out in order to get a reward, in most cases a treat. They watch the ape to see if and how long it takes it to figure out the problem at hand. There is no one test that is going to give you a good handle on the cognitive abilities in a species so many different tests must be done. There is even some variability within a species because every individual is different. This makes assessing cognition extremely difficult and time consuming.

       A lot of studies have focused on the capacity for apes to learn, and how easily they are able to learn from each other. Many studies have shown that Apes can learn just from watching each other. A study shown in the movie was of a researcher teaching a chimpanzee how to solve a box so that she could get a grape. The chimpanzee easily learns how to get the grape, thus showing their direct learning abilities. What was cool about this study was that the other apes that were watching from a different enclosure were able to figure out the box as well, just from watching the neighboring chimpanzee! This really shows their strong cognitive ability to learn just from watching which isn’t something a lot of species can do.

       One study that I thought was particularly interesting and well designed was the experiment studying impulse control. In this experiment the researcher had two bowls of M&M’s. The chimpanzee had previously learned to count. The researcher counts two M&M’s and puts it in one bowl, then counts out a larger amount of five or 6 into the second bowl. The chimpanzee is then asked which one it wants to give to the other chimp sitting in the cage across from it.  No matter how many times the chimp watched the bowl with the larger amount go to the other chimp it does not choose the smaller amount of food to give to the fellow chimp.  This shows that when food is in front of them the chimps cannot control the impulse to choose the larger amount of food even when they see that it is going to the other chimp and not them. Curiously enough, when this experiment is done with written out numbers in bowls the chimp learns to choose the smaller number to give to the other chimp. The symbols help them control their impulses and gain the larger reward, however they have not been observed using or making symbols in the wild.

       Overall I have learned that non-human apes have amazing cognitive abilities. That being said, they don’t have the self control or quite the capacity for language that humans do.  They understand much more than we thought they did and are continually learning, but odds are “planet of the apes” isn’t happening any time soon. 


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bxp3xBbU4Mc (it is featured at 31 minutes in the video)


Strier, Karen B. Primate Behavioral Ecology. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2000. Print.


Week 12: second Article Review



       Because I am writing my final paper on depression in chimpanzees, I chose a study on PTSD and depression. It is an online article Titled Signs of Mood and Anxiety Disorders in Chimpanzees. This article has been very helpful and useful in my research because it was so nicely and thoroughly planned and executed.

            The experiment sought to find out if chimpanzees displayed signs of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and/or depression. They then looked at chimpanzees in the wild and in captivity to see if there was a disparity between the two. To execute this they made two definitions to test whether or not the chimpanzees had depression/PTSD. The first definition was taken from the DSM-IV. This is the main book that psychologists use to look up mental illnesses symptoms. The second definition was one they formulated specifically for chimps by taking criteria from pediatrics and children who cannot speak since chimpanzees cannot relay to them how they are feeling. They then formulated three hypotheses: (a) a number of traumatized chimpanzees would reliably meet DSM-IV criteria for PTSD or depression; (b) traumatized chimpanzees would manifest few or only transient symptoms; (c) traumatized chimpanzees would develop many of the symptoms of psychiatric disorders, but would not reliably meet DSM-IV criteria. The researchers took information from many sources and did some research in the field and captivity as well. They concluded that hypothesis C was correct in that the traumatized chimps did develop some symptoms of psychiatric disorder but they did not reliably meet the standards of the DSM-IV. The next step of the experiment was to test whether or not captive chimps experienced more of these symptoms than wild chimps. For this phase of the experiment they relied on their second definition and criteria, as the DSM-IV did not seem adequate or accurate. They found that captive chimps did indeed exhibit more of the PTSD and depressive symptoms than did wild chimps. 58% of chimps living in captivity met the definition for depression based on the alternate set of criteria compared with 3% living in the wild. Similarly, 44% of chimps living in captivity showed signs of PTSD compared with just .5% of chimpanzees in the wild.

            I thought this article was very well written and thorough. The writers and researchers did an excellent job of showing everything they collected and explaining how they did all of their research.  I liked how they first used the definition from the DSM-IV, and evaluated the chimp’s behavior in regards to that then tested an alternate definition that better fitted the types of observations and information they could collect. The DSM-IV relies on a lot of oral data, and requires subjects to describe their feelings. Because chimps cannot do that, I thought the idea of the second definition was excellent. It is also stated in the article that the second set of criteria still may not be perfect for testing depression and PTSD in chimps. This is one of the only faults in the experiment and it is openly acknowledged and expressed. I also liked how they included specific case studies in the article because those can be insightful and important to the research.

            Some negative points in this study is that it was not a longitudinal study. Some of the subjects could have been showing some depressive behaviors could have stopped and others could have started later on. I feel as though the research could have been more thorough if they had studied them longer. There also is no reference to the severity of the depression or PTSD, which I think would be interesting to know and study.

            Overall, I thought this was an excellent study and encompassed a lot of information. It was very thorough and informative. I feel like the research done was very reliable. It was easy to understand and truly helped me to learn more about this topic.


Ferdowsian, Hope R. 2011. Signs of Mood and Anxiety Disorders in Chimpanzees.PLOS ONE:. N.p., 


Picture Credit



Week 11: Proposed paper topic



        After going on our class zoo trip I became increasingly curious about mental illnesses and the affects of it on captive primates. After seeing the video of Acacia trying to escape the zoo I immediately felt angry at zoos for housing animals for our enjoyment. At the zoo we learned that Acacia had lost a baby just a few months prior ,and her behavior did seem to be different then the others. She spent more time by herself making nests and resting. Because there isn’t a silverback in their group anymore there isn’t anyone to impregnate Acacia and give her another child like there would be in the wild. This got me thinking about depressive behaviors in primates. I want to know if they are more prevalent in captive primates versus wild ones.

            For my paper I have decided to do a literature review on depressive behaviors in chimpanzees. Specifically I plan on looking at depressive behaviors in the wild versus depressive behaviors in captivity. I also plan on looking for data on varying degrees of captivity to see if that changes the depressive behaviors. Chimpanzees have notoriously been used in research and been subjected to cruel environments. Many have since been retired, but there is still a lot of research done on the long-term effects of such captivity. I have chosen to focus on chimpanzees because of their genetic closeness to us, and their tendency to be used in experimentation. There has also been a lot of research on them both in the wild and in captivity, so I thought they would be the perfect primates to research. As well as looking at depressive behaviors in captive and wild chimpanzees, I thought it would also be interesting to see if they showed any signs of PTSD after such traumatic life events. Similar to those experienced by Jewish people during the Holocaust.

            I already know that many chimps, like the ones from the NASA space programs have shown depression symptoms. This is what is to be expected after what they were put through. What I don’t know and hope to learn more about is the long term affect of these conditions and if they can be treated to ever be “normal” again, or at least relatively normal. What I would also like to learn is if depression or depressive behaviors in zoos and zoo enclosures is significantly higher than what would typically be seen in the wild. If so what are some factors that may be causing it. It would also be interesting to see if we can ever really ever simulate their natural habitat and have them be normal and healthy chimpanzees. I would also like to bring up the question of whether zoos can truly be beneficial or if they mainly just harm the animals.

            I plan on consulting several sources and studies to thoroughly research this topic. I will need to find out what physiological and psychological responses occur with depression and how it is characterized in primates. I also plan to look at the dozens of studies done on chimpanzee depression in various environments to collect a comprehensive understanding of the illness and its effects on the population.

         One of the sources I have already collected was a study done comparing depression in the wild and in a zoo (Ferdowsian, 2011). It is very thorough and shows all research methods clearly and concisely. Another source I have collected describes post-traumatic stress disorder in chimps that had been involved in experiments (Onekind, 2011). The last source that I have obtained is on Post-captivity depression in chimps(Tenofsky, 2014). This one describes the psychological scars left on chimpanzees and possible methods and medications to cure or at least raise the quality of life for the chimpanzees.



1.) Ferdowsian, Hope R. 2011. Signs of Mood and Anxiety Disorders in Chimpanzees.

     PLOS ONE:. N.p.

2.)Onekind, .2011. Chimps Used in Experiments Show Signs of Post-traumatic Stress and Depression.

    OneKind Animal Blog RSS. Ed. Onekind. N.p.,

3.) Tenofsky, Russel. 2014.  More on Post-Captivity Depression in Chimpanzees.

     The Nonhuman Rights Project RSS. N.p., n.d. 


Photo Credits 


Week 10: Zoom Impressions



I really enjoyed getting to see real primates at the zoo. I have never been to a real zoo before, just the petting variety, so going to one and seeing the animals we have talked about in class was a great experience. Seeing the gorillas in person was more special than I thought it would be. Once you really paid attention to them you could start to pick out their little quirks and see their individual and unique personalities. I did not expect that to be so apparent, but each gorilla was clearly different.

As far as their behavior goes they acted just as I thought they would. The juveniles were rambunctious and loved the attention of their viewers as well as their fellow gorillas. The older females for the most part lounged around and ate all day. I found it a slightly sad that Acacia spent most of her day by herself sleeping or making nests. She just seemed lonely to me. One thing I didn’t record hardly at all was grooming, and I found that unusual. I had expected it to be a large part of their interaction and socialization, but it was not.

As a first time researcher and observer I found that the gorillas were a good primate to observe. They aren’t too rowdy and they are each fairly distinct from another. They also were easy to follow around in their enclosure so I didn’t get them mixed up too much. I thought they were very majestic and interesting to watch. I do, however, think it would be interesting to observe other primates as well. We briefly viewed the baboons and I thought they were very fun to watch. They would have been more difficult to distinguish and follow because there were so many of them, so I’m glad I did not have to take on that task for my first taste of primate observation. The chimpanzees would have been fun to observe also, but they had many more places to hide than the Gorillas, so once again it would have been slightly more difficult.

Seeing all of the animals in their enclosures did affect my perspective on captivity. It made me sad to see all of them trapped. It was depressing to think that this is all they have known and that it is all they will probably ever know. Gorillas were made to migrate and forage but in the enclosure they were doomed to roam in circles their whole life and wait for their food like clockwork. To me they just seemed depressed. I could be projecting feelings onto them, but it seemed like a depressing lifestyle. It also became evident to me that once a gorilla is born in captivity, it would be extremely difficult for it to be re-introduced into the wild. They clearly don’t have the skills to survive and since their parents likely grew up in captivity as well they aren’t being taught what they need to make it in the wild. It made me realize that now we have this population of gorillas whose sole purpose is for humans to watch, since reintroducing them into the wild would most likely result in death. The video that Professor Rodriguez showed us of Acacia trying to escape also made me dislike captivity. She clearly wanted a way out and the people observing her just laughed. Another thing that bugged me about the zoo and captivity was the ignorance of the people coming to observe the gorillas. I heard multiple people calling them monkeys and I know not everyone takes primatology, but I thought it was common knowledge that gorillas are Apes.

The zoo can be a great educational experience to us humans and a refuge for some animals that are injured or need help, but I feel like we walk a thin line between education and exploitation. Overall I enjoyed the zoo visit very much and it was fascinating to see real Gorillas but a part of me was troubled at what we have done to wildlife and nature for our enjoyment.

Photo credits



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