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.

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