Twenty-two species of macaques – a genus of Old World monkeys – range from north Africa and southern Europe to Japan. The reddish-faced, native Japanese macaque or “snow monkey” (Macaca fuscata), is the only nonhuman primate to inhabit a very cold, northern climate – an especially harsh environment in winter, where temperatures can dip to below -15 C. Snow monkeys are found on all the Japanese islands except Hokkaido, the northernmost. Though commonly seen in the past in countryside and village, due to habitat loss, these primates now spend most of their time in the forests and mountainous areas where they feed on seeds, buds, fruits, leaves and bark and invertebrates.
The monkey has long figured in Japanese religion – especially in Shintoism and Buddhism. Monkeys appear in Shinto mythology as attendants to Raijin, the god of lightning, and in other folklore and fables. The “Three Wise Monkeys” (“see, hear and speak no evil”) are carved in colorful, high relief above the door of the well-known Shinto shrine Tosho-gu, Nikko, Japan. A traditional motif in Japanese art, monkeys appear in 12th-century picture scrolls – many of which are among the National Treasures of Japan. They are represented in many other paintings, and have been carved on boxes and netsukes – the button-like toggles found on traditional Japanese garments.
Today, snow monkeys can be found bathing together in the hot springs of Jigokudani, Nagano, Japan. And once again – “Happy Year of the Monkey”!
This is the first in a series of blogs on primates in cultures around the world.
Posted by Gabrielle Vernet.
See: “Monkey Tales: Apes and Monkeys in Asian Art” – Exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (11 July – 30 October, 2016) – celebrates the “Year of the Monkey”. http//:www.ashmolean.org See also: www.japan-guide.com/e/e3801.html and http//:www.japan-guide.com/e/e6028.html
I had promised to turn attention to communication in primates over a series of blog posts. I’ll start with a book I bought a year ago, edited by Josep Call and Michael Tomasello, called The Gestural Communication of Apes and Monkeys (2007). This is a valuable reference that points to gestures as socially learned, but it does mainly focus on captive apes and gestures are considered in isolation, or as Adam Kendon, an authority on gestural communication, states in his review of the book, they are “units” detached from the natural and complex flow of gestures, sounds and so on – we don’t necessarily gain an adequate understanding of interactions due to this categorising of gestures into units. I think this is what made me abandon parts of the book, yet at the same time I was fascinated to watch the DVD footage even though it did seem disjointed (and in some cases did not play well). Kendon refers to Joanne Tanner’s (2004) research into captive lowland gorillas, where she captures “phrases” rather than just single gestures. I’ll look at Tanner for the next blog post, so our focus in this series will first be on great apes.
A new study conducted by the Yerkes National Primate Research Center finds that chimpanzees choose cooperation over competition. These findings were published in PNAS online on 22 August 2016. The article begins with the following statement of significance:
“Competitive tendencies may make it hard for members of a group to cooperate with each other. Humans use many different “enforcement” strategies to keep competition in check and favor cooperation. To test whether one of our closest relatives uses similar strategies, we gave a group of chimpanzees a cooperative problem that required joint action by two or three individuals. The open-group set-up allowed the chimpanzees a choice between cooperation and competitive behavior like freeloading. The chimpanzees used a combination of partner choice and punishment of competitive individuals to reduce competition. In the end, cooperation won. Our results suggest that the roots of human cooperation are shared with other primates.”
Please visit PNAS for the full article. If you are unable to access PNAS, PhysOrg has a synopsis of the research.
Before we continue a theme of primate communication, we’d like to say HAPPY INTERNATIONAL PRIMATE DAY for 2016! Please visit Animal Defenders International (ADI) for their story about what’s being done in honour of today – musician Moby is partnering with ADI to campaign for Barbary macaques, hoping to shift their CITES status to Appendix I to give them greater protection.