Friday, August 27

A Bit of Humor

I was once an avid reader of Fuck You, Penguin, but that blog faded into the ether for me a number of years ago. Now he has a bloody book! It took a particular post like this being sent my way to recapture my attention of a brief moment.
Honestly, it might be this picture that I found to be the most captivating aspect of the post. The photo manages to capture the silliness of monkey behavior via the stick in the mouth, as well as the sleekness of the animal in its seemingly perfectly groomed coat. And the eyes. Always the eyes. They've got that perfect intensity I've gotten so used to seeing among the males of my troops.

The mandrill was once thought to be a type of baboon; categorized under the same genus: papio. In more recent years, the mandrill and the drill have been given their own genus, but they're still recognized as being close relatives of the baboons, and if you ask me, the resemblance is clear in spite of the vibrant color differences.

...plus you know, the shots that the author takes at the mandrill are also quite amusing.

Wednesday, August 18


As a rule, I try to avoid primate-human interaction affairs if it is at all possible. Posting interesting stories about how monkeys or apes get along with humans is a different tale entirely.

When chimpanzees attack humans: Loss of habitat may lead to increased conflict

ScienceDaily (2010-08-11) -- Scientists from Japan, studying chimpanzees in Guinea, have published research revealing why nonhuman primates attack humans and what preventive measures can be taken. The study suggests that while rare, attacks by primates on humans may increase as wild habitat is increasingly converted for agriculture. ... > read full article

Given that the International Primatology Society's (IPS) annual meeting is being held next month in Kyoto, I thought I could use this opportunity to say a few things about the unique Japanese school of Primatology. Unfortunately, I've never met a true Japanese primatologist in real life. However, I've been to Japan, and have spent a number of years studying the Japanese language and culture on the side.

I was a bit surprised when I first learned that Japanese Primatology involves establishing a very personal connection with one's subject. To quote wikipedia,
 "Japanese primatology is a carefully disciplined subjective science. It is believed that the best data comes through identification with your subject. Neutrality is eschewed in favour of a more casual atmosphere, where researcher and subject can mingle more freely. Domestication of nature is not only desirable, but necessary for study."
Definitely not how the Euro-American schools of primatology go about it, at least in my experience. This, after all, is the kind of thing that can get you into Dian Fossey degrees of trouble. Or so we're often lead to believe.

I occasionally check the faculty, staff, and students in the Japanese primatology programs, and while they are composed almost exclusively of Japanese, there is usually an odd European student or two. I've known people to go abroad and live among the Japanese for years on end, but what would it be like to be in the boonies of Africa with a Japanese research team? I don't think I've ever seen one of the Japanese teams advertise on the Primate Job List. Its another bold new frontier in the world of Primatology that few would consider, and fewer are given an opportunity to experience. Unless you're Japanese, of course.

Thursday, August 12

The Odd One Out

There is an epilogue to the tale of Trish and the curse that hangs over her. A few weeks after her child died, things were mostly back to normal for her. Trish had always been a pudgy baboon, which made us all think she was a month overdue on her child when she was pregnant. In one brief moment, I even thought she had become pregnant again. The my senses took hold. So she went about her fat, low ranking business, getting pushed around and having relatively little support. She's not particularly remarkable except for being overweight and having defective breasts.

She became quite remarkable when one day, I was standing by one of the standard paths, trying to collect a bit of data, when Trish waddles by, carrying an infant on her back. It was a brown and gray infant, with not a trace of black hair remaining. Its legs straddled Trish's tail, its upper body lay flattened against her back, and the tiny arms clutched down at her flanks. This is the second most popular infant riding position, and once they get too big for a ventral mount (as this one very much was), this is just about all that their mothers will still allow.

The infant offered an occasional grunt, but I coudn't quite place the vocalization. It almost seemed as if it were complaining or in mild distress. Trish looked up at me as she passed with he infant, and quickened her pace to be rid of me. I was too shocked to follow. What the hell was this about?

This scene repeated herself for all of us several times, and left us all equally baffled. This infant clearly wasn't hers. It was only a year or so old, too young for us not to have seen her with it previously. So who's baby did Trish decided to adopt, or perhaps, who's baby decided to adopt Trish? And which mother was okay with her young infant pulling this kind of stunt?

At first, the running belief was that the infant was Punzle's, who was adventurous enough to perhaps make up for how bitchy Punzle tends to be. This theory was disproven when Trish trotted by with infant astraddle, and Hilda following not more than a few paces (baboon paces, not human). The scene played out with the infant hopping off Hilda for a brief suckle before returning to Trish.

I'm happy that of all the females, this has happened to Trish. Maybe it is precisely because of who she is and what she goes through that she seeks out surrogates so effectively. There are stories of females who go about it quite poorly: they effectively steal a baby from a lower ranking female and carry it around treating it as their own, except the infant usually can't suckle, and eventually dies. A bad business for everyone involved.

Trish is too low ranked for such disrespectful behavior. That doesn't explain why Hilda, one of the highest ranking females in the troop, is okay with this. It occurred to me that since she is one of the older females in the troop, Trish might be one of her own children. If this were the case, Trish ought not to be so low ranking herself, given baboons' matrilineal patterns of inheritance. Perhaps a granddaughter? That would make the ranking discrepancy less of an issue, but Hilda doesn't seem that old.

Wishy washy as it may seem, maybe Hilda is old and secure in her rnaking and motherhood habits, and is wise enough to see that Trish is not a threat, in moderation. The child is at least a year old, and Hilda's still keeping an eye on things. Its good for her, too, since she has to deal with the little brat less than if Trish hadn't been appointed baby-sitter. So it makes decent sense from a anthropomorphic standpoint, for whatever that is worth.

It seems like a small consolation for Trish, and its unclear if she's actually enriching the troop through this behavior. Yet, all of the three involved seem to be satisfied with the arrangement. Far from me to tell baboons what to do.

Tuesday, August 10

Monkeys aren't donkeys

But, its a moot point, since gorillas aren't monkeys. What am I blabbering about, you may say? Well, Molly sent me a highly amusing link about apes from Gizmodo of all places.

Real Life Donkey Kong Playing With His Nintendo DS
Real Life Donkey Kong Playing With His Nintendo DS"Donkey Kong plays Donkey Kong while Donkey Kong Jr. watches. OK, maybe he's not playing DK, but it's just as good. The story involves a kid, a couple of real gorillas at the San Francisco Zoo and a happy ending."

Go read the story, watch the movie, and look at the pictures. Pretty great stuff. I just keep finding more and more little things that make me like Gizmodo.

There's more interesting stuff to be said about the baboons. I have a coda for the woeful tale of Trish in the works, but then I went and of all things, injured my wrist, so I'm trying to keep my keyboard strain to a minimum. But if I had nothing but gorillas and video games news to read about, I'd be happy.