Tourists run risk of mistaking wild monkeys' angry pouts for 'kisses'
Washington D.C. [USA], Jun 1 : Wildlife tourists are at a risk of being bitten by wild monkeys as many misread the animals' facial expressions, according to a recent study.The paper said that tourists frequently fail to identify aggressive and distressed emotional states in wild monkeys - mistaking animals' warnings of aggression for 'smiles' and 'kisses' - and this can lead to welfare problems for primates and risk of injury for people.
The University of Lincoln research examined whether educational tools intended to help tourists recognise different facial expressions in monkeys - such as 2D images and information signs like those found in zoos or animal parks - were effective in reducing harm to humans and distress to primates in destinations where wild macaques freely interact with humans.
The researchers found that tourists made significant mistakes in interpreting macaques' emotions - such as believing a monkey was 'smiling' or 'blowing them kisses' when they were in fact displaying aggression - despite exposure to pictures designed to demonstrate what the animals' facial expressions mean.
This level of misunderstanding could lead to increased risk of injury to humans and have a negative impact on the welfare on the animals, particularly in places where wild macaques interact with people, the study concluded.
Researcher Laetitia Marechal said that there is a growing interest in wildlife tourism, and in particular primate tourism. People travel to encounter wild animals, many of them attempting to closely interact with monkeys, even though this is often prohibited.
"Education, guided visits, and keeping a safe distance with animals could be implemented as measures to reduce such issues, improving both animal welfare and tourist experience. Video might be a particularly effective tool to help people recognise animal emotion based on their facial expressions, behaviour or vocalisations, reducing any misunderstanding," Marechal noted.
"If we can educate people, and prevent monkey bites, we can not only reduce the risk of disease infection, we can improve on the tourism experience. These findings are highly relevant to the general public and any professional in wildlife tourism, where wild animals can interact with the general public," Marechal added.
The study is published in the journal PeerJ.