Monkeys Bothered By Tourists Monkeying Around

Photo via Wikipedia Commons

Vacations are a time for people kick off their work boots for flip-flops and trade in their neck-ties for fanny packs, but it's no picnic for everybody. While marauding throngs of camera-wielding tourists are a fact of life in destination spots around the world, researchers have found that it's rubbing some locals the wrong way -- not surprising, those with the most hair. Barbary macaques, native to Morocco and Algiers, are among tourists' favorite things to gawk, gab, and snap at -- but scientists say all this human monkey business is sending their anxiety levels through the roof.According to British researchers studying macaque behavior in Morocco's Ifrane National Park, a popular spot for tourists hoping for a little monkey time, all the attention they're getting isn't doing them any good. As visitors going about talk, shout, and snap photos of the understandably enticing animals, macaques often behave in a manner indicative of increased anxiety, such as excessive scratching.

Scientists have also found evidence of anxiousness in the macaques' droppings, specifically high levels of a stress hormone elicited by 'aggressive human behavior'.

The BBC spoke with primate researcher Dr. Stuart Semple, who breaks down what it is about tourists that seems to bother macaques the most -- and it's not your pink zinc sunblock:

The researchers divided the interactions into three categories: feeding; neutral, which included taking photographs of the monkeys; and aggression, including the less common incidences of tourists throwing things at the macaques or physically striking them.

"All three types of interactions seemed to make the monkeys anxious," said Dr Semple.

"We were unsuprised by the aggression and the feeding, but we were surprised that tourists doing the usual tourist thing upset the animals."

The findings could create a bit of a dilemma for conservationists. Barbary macaques were recently designated an endangered species, numbering around 6,000 -- so keeping them safe and anxiety-free is an important aspect of preservation. On the other hand, barring tourism could lead to a less funding for conservation programs, in addition to lowering awareness of the challenges they face.

For the time being, Dr. Semple suggests that only allowing humans to observe macaques from an appropriate distance might actually improve relations between the two primates, telling the BBC:

"This could actually make the experience [of viewing wildlife] much better for people as they would be able to enjoy the animals as they behaved in a much more natural way."

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Tags: Endangered Species