Friday, February 25, 2011

Study: Chimps Can Remember What And Where – But Not When

In a memory contest between a chimpanzee and a bird, most of us would bet on the chimp. But if the bird in question were a scrub jay - and the task involved mental time travel - the chimp might just find itself outmatched.

Episodic memories combine what happened, when and where. They are an essential part of visualising a different time, and were thought to be uniquely human until Nicola Clayton at the University of Cambridge proved that western scrub jays have simple episodic memories - allowing them to track how long it takes for food they have stashed to rot.

Chimps can remember where they hid food, but it's not clear whether they can track the amount of time that has passed since a memory was formed. To investigate, Marusha Dekleva of Utrecht University in the Netherlands tested nine captive chimps on a task similar to the one Clayton used with scrub jays. She showed each chimp four containers: two were empty; one contained either apple sauce or yoghurt, which the chimps like; and one held red peppers, which they like less.

Dekleva let the chimps pick a food container either 15 minutes, 1 hour or 5 hours later. But there was a twist: the apple sauce disappeared by the 1-hour mark, leaving the container empty, and by the 5-hour mark the yoghurt had gone, but the peppers were still available. Chimps are good learners and were expected to adjust their choice of containers over time.

They didn't. Instead, they remembered which containers held more food early in the study, and picked those no matter how much time had passed. This got them some food, but far less than they could have obtained by adapting their behaviour.

If chimps genuinely lack episodic memories, our ancestors must have evolved them after we diverged from chimps. "Episodic memory is linked to the ability to plan for future events and it could well be that this prospective ability gave humans advantages," says Dekleva.

Full story here.

Monkeys Urinate On Themselves To Attract A Mate

Capuchin monkeys, that are found across Central and South America, routinely urinate in their hands and rub the liquid around their body.

The reason for the strange habit has been a mystery to scientists for years.

Some thought the urine lowered body temperature, while others claimed it enabled the monkeys to identify particular individuals by smell.

Now the mystery has been solved. A new study, published in the American Journal of Primatology, has found the urine ‘turns on’ female monkeys.

Researchers at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, carried out brain scans of female tufted capuchins as they sniffed the urine. The urine of sexually mature males produced more activity than the urine of juveniles.

This suggests males wash with their urine to signal their availability and attractiveness to females.

Dr Kimberley Phillips, a primatologist, said females know which males to pursue from the smell of the urine.

“Since female capuchins [when they are most fertile] actively solicit males, we reasoned that urine washing by males might provide chemical information to the females about their sexual or social status,” she told the BBC.

Full story here.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Man Falls To Death From Rooftop After Monkey Attack

After two elephants injured a Korean couple at Amber, it was the turn of monkeys on Monday to create a ruckus. A 42-year-old businessman fell from the third floor of his house after being attacked by a group of monkeys in Galta Gate area in the morning. He died on the spot.

According to the police, the deceased, Giriraj Prasad Gupta, was a resident of Raghunath Colony in Galta Gate and owned a shop in Surajpole. He used to take a stroll on the rooftop of his third floor along with his wife every morning, said his father Brij Bihari Gupta.

At around 6 am, Giriraj asked his wife to go down and get tea for him.

"She had taken a few steps down the stairs when a group of moneys jumped to the rooftop from another house and attacked Giriraj," said a police officer.

His wife told police that while trying to scare away the monkeys, Giriraj asked her to run for safety.

"As his wife climbed down the stairs, she saw the monkeys attacking Giriraj," said the officer adding that the he fell head-on to the ground. "Giriraj's brother, who was in his room on the second floor, heard a loud thud and peeped out of the window. He saw Giriraj and rushed outside. But he had died on the spot," said the officer.

Nevertheless, the victim was rushed to SMS Hospital by family members, but declared brought dead. The hospital informed the police following which a post-mortem was conducted.

"We have handed over the body to the family members. A physical verification of the spot will be conducted on Tuesday," said the officer.

Full story here.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Study: Monkeys 'Display Self-Doubt' Like Humans

Monkeys trained to play computer games have helped to show that it is not just humans that feel self-doubt and uncertainty, a study says.

US-based scientists found that macaques will "pass" rather than risk choosing the wrong answer in a brainteaser task.

Awareness of our own thinking was believed to be a uniquely human trait.

But the study, presented at the AAAS meeting in Washington DC, suggests that our more primitive primate relatives are capable of such self-awareness.

Professor John David Smith, from State University of New York at Buffalo and Michael Beran, from Georgia State University, carried out the study.

They trained the macaques, which are Old World monkeys, to use a joystick-based computer game.

The animals were trained to judge the density of a pixel box that appeared at the top of the screen as either sparse or dense. To give their answer, the monkeys simply moved a cursor towards a letter S or a letter D.

When the animals chose the correct letter, they were rewarded with an edible treat. There was no punishment for choosing the wrong answer, but the game briefly paused, taking away - for a few seconds - the opportunity for the animals to win another treat.

But the monkeys had a third option - choosing a question mark - which skipped the trial and moved on to the next one. This meant no treat, but it also meant no pause in the game.

The scientists saw that the macaques used this option in exactly the same way as human participants who reported that they found a trial too tricky to answer; they chose to "pass" and move on.

Full story here.

Lemur Born At St. Louis Zoo Makes Public Debut

A baby lemur born last month at the St. Louis Zoo can now be seen by visitors.

The baby is a Coquerel's sifaka, an endangered lemur species from Madagascar.

It was born Jan. 9 and, like most young Coquerel's sifakas, has spent the last month holding on to its mother's belly, the zoo said. It's been possible for visitors to catch a glimpse of the new sifaka for about a week, but it has now moved to riding on its mother's back and is more easily viewed.

Full story here.

Monkeys Fattened For Study

Like many these days, Shiva sits around too much, eating rich, fatty foods and sipping sugary drinks. He has the pot belly to prove it, one that nearly touches the floor — when he’s on all fours, that is.

At 45 pounds, Shiva is twice his normal weight and carries much of it in his belly. He can eat all the pellets he wants and snack on peanut butter, but gets barely any exercise. More Photos »

Shiva belongs to a colony of monkeys who have been fattened up to help scientists study the twin human epidemics of obesity and diabetes. The overweight monkeys also test new drugs aimed at treating those conditions.

“We are trying to induce the couch-potato style,” said Kevin L. Grove, who directs the “obese resource” at the Oregon National Primate Research Center here. “We believe that mimics the health issues we face in the United States today.”

The corpulent primates serve as useful models, experts say, because they resemble humans much more than laboratory rats do, not only physiologically but in some of their feeding habits. They tend to eat when bored, even when they are not really hungry. And unlike human subjects who are notorious for fudging their daily calorie or carbohydrate counts, a caged monkey’s food intake is much easier for researchers to count and control.

“Nonhuman primates don’t lie to you,” said Dr. Grove, who is a neuroscientist. “We know exactly how much they are eating.”

To allow monitoring of their food intake, some of the obese monkeys are kept in individual cages for months or years, which also limits their exercise. That is in contrast to most of the monkeys here who live in group indoor/outdoor cages with swings and things to climb on.

While this research is not entirely new and has been the target of some animal rights’ group complaints, demand for the overweight primates is growing as part of the battle against the nation’s obesity epidemic, according to Dr. Grove and other researchers working with such monkeys in Florida, Texas and North Carolina, and also overseas.

Full story here.

Stolen Monkey Found - But It's The Wrong One

Police say a rare monkey that was returned to a NSW wildlife park yesterday is not the one that was stolen from his cage nine months ago.

It is instead another monkey of the same breed - a cotton-top tamarin called Conchetta - who was stolen from Brisbane's Alma Park Zoo in October.

"Unfortunately it was a case of mistaken identity by the police," said John Radnidge, the owner of the Symbio Wildlife Park, in Helensburg, NSW.
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"I can confirm that the animal belongs to Alma Park in Brisbane. It turned up in Melbourne and she's now in our care."

Eight monkeys from Symbio - four tamarins and four pygmy marmosets - were stolen from Mr Radnidge's park on May 30. Seven of them were found in early June, but one tamarin - six-month-old Rico, remained missing.

He was believed to have been found after a 34-year-old Victorian man yesterday returned to the Symbio park a monkey that he said his friend had bought for him on the internet.

But after a physical examination and an analysis of the monkey's microchip, police and Mr Radnidge now say the returned tamarin is not the male Rico but is instead the female Conchetta.

Full story here.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Baby Gorilla Goes Viral With First Steps

Remember the tiny baby gorilla born at London Zoo last October? Well, he's back and this time zookeepers were on hand with a video camera when Tiny - as he's now called - took his first steps this week (see video, above).

The infant has been clinging to his mother since his birth, so it's no surprise she gave him an encouraging shove in the right direction when he tried to return for a cuddle. The keepers are now trying to come up with a permanent name, as he is fast outgrowing his nickname.

Full story here.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Rare Mountain Gorilla Gives Birth To Twins

A mountain gorilla in northern Rwanda gave birth to twins, a rare occurrence for an endangered species which counts fewer than 800 individuals, Rwandan media reported Monday.

"The twins, both of them males, were born Thursday of a mother gorilla called Kabatwa. They are doing well," Radio Rwanda reported, quoting information from the Rwandan Development Bureau.

According to the pro-government daily New Times, only five previous instances of twins have been recorded in 40 years of monitoring in Rwanda.

"It's uncommon among the population of gorillas, and very few cases of twins have been documented in the wild or captivity," said Prosper Uwingeli, chief warden at the Volcanoes National Park where the twins were born.

Full story here.

Gibbons Have Regional Accents

A new study has found that just like humans, gibbons have regional accents too.

Gibbons, which along with the great apes are the closest relatives to humans, sing to communicate with each other, and use song to define territory and woo mates.

Scientists from the German Primate Center analysed more than 400 samples of crested gibbon song including 92 duets and analysed them using 53 acoustic parameters.

The team said that the song shows not only the regional differences in 'accents' but also could give clues to their migrationary past.

While the gibbons from Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam were recognisable as being from the same region, two species from northern Vietnam and China had different 'accents' and were distinct from their southern relatives.

“We found the largest differences in the song structure between the most northern and most southern species with successive gradation between them,” the Daily Mail quoted the authors as saying.

Full story here.

35 Zoo Animals Freeze To Death In Northern Mexico

Thirty-five animals at a zoo in the northern Mexico state of Chihuahua have frozen to death during the region's coldest weather in six decades.

Serengeti Zoo owner Alberto Hernandez says 14 parrots, 13 serpents, five iguanas, two crocodiles and a capuchin monkey died. He said Saturday that power failures cut off electrical heating at the zoo in the town of Aldama.

Temperatures have dropped to 9 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 13 Celsius) in the area, the coldest weather in 60 years.

Power outages have affected much of northern Mexico, forcing factories and businesses to close. Dozens of people are in shelters. Schools have been closed in Chihuahua state but are expected to open Tuesday as the weather warms.

Full story here.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Study Sheds Light On How Chimps Understand Death

Groundbreaking research from the Netherlands provides new insight into the behaviour of a chimpanzee mother after the loss of her infant. Presented in the American Journal of Primatology, the study reveals how a chimpanzee mother shows behaviours not typically seen directed toward an infant that is alive. The finding offers zoologists key information about how our closest primate relative learns about death.

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics (MPI) found that when an infant chimpanzee dies, its mother lays it on the ground to watch it from a distance or places her fingers against its neck.

Dr Katherine Cronin and her team carried out their study at the Zambia-based Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage Trust, where wild-born chimpanzees reside after being rescued from illegal trade.

Scientists have long recognised that chimpanzee mothers maintain close contact with their offspring for a number of years. The infants are carried by their mothers for around two years, and are nursed until they are four to six years old. Experts say the solid ties between mother and child continue for many years after weaning. They consider this relationship as one of the most crucial in a chimpanzee's life.

Full story here.

Monkey Pushes Stone, 1 Dies On Spot, 2 Injured

A vegetable vendor was killed, while two others suffered serious injuries, when a monkey pushed a big stone from the third floor of a house in Chetganj area under the same police station on Monday.

According to reports, Bhanna, a native of Piplani area was running his makeshift vegetable shop outside the house of Mahadeo Sao in Chetganj area. On Monday morning, Bhanna was busy in his works, when a monkey climbed up the terrace of the house and pushed a stone. The stone fell from the third floor of the house. Bhanna suffered serious head injuries in the incident and died on the spot, while two other persons standing at his shop sustained injuries.

Full story here.