New primate behaviour study centre opens
Thu, 08 Dec 2011 10:08:00 GMT
The University of Portsmouth and Marwell Wildlife have joined forces to open the world’s first cognitive study centre for rare Sulawesi crested macaques.
The animals will learn to operate computer touch screens allowing scientists to investigate fundamental aspects of their cognition such as memory, communication and emotion.
The centre has been built alongside Marwell Wildlife’s Sulawesi crested macaque island – scientists will work in a glassed test area - and is on direct public view. Unlike many other scientific centres, guests to the park will have the opportunity to view the studies whilst they take place.
“The animals can make choices using the touch screens and this offers us a direct window into their understanding, said lead scientist, Dr Bridget Waller from the University’s Department of Psychology.
“It allows us to ask scientific questions that can’t be addressed by observational studies alone. The macaque studies will give us a better understanding of how the macaques communicate their perception of the world, their emotions and social relationships.”
Just like humans and many other primates, macaques use complex social interactions. Sulawesi crested macaques, native to Indonesia, employ sophisticated and subtle communication tools, relying on many different facial expressions, body positioning and vocalisations to make themselves understood.
At Marwell Wildlife the macaques live in their social group and can voluntarily enter a specialised research area, separate from the researcher. The animals are free to end the sessions whenever they like and return to their daily activities. They receive food treats – tiny amounts of healthy titbits - when they take part in the studies
“This method is an excellent way to study the animals because they are curious about the tasks and keen to participate in activities with the researchers,” said Dr Waller.
“Sulawesi crested macaques are critically endangered and we know very little about their behaviour and psychology. Understanding more about their social interactions, from the results of the touch screen work, will allow us to understand how and why, primates, including humans, have evolved such good social skills.
“Our partnership with Marwell Wildlife offers the scientific community a unique and invaluable opportunity to study these fascinating animals.”
Chief Executive of Marwell Wildlife, James Cretney, said: “We are very pleased to be working with the University of Portsmouth in undertaking this pioneering study of Sulawesi crested macaques.
“We think it gives our guests, including large numbers of young people, a great opportunity to see science in action, which is an important extension of our role in conservation.
“Similar projects are in place with related species in zoological parks around the world and have been shown to benefit the animals by adding some new and interesting challenges to their environment.”
Marwell Wildlife, a registered charity, is committed to conserve species and their habitats, locally and globally and to undertake and share findings of scientific studies.