Display of concern and “consolation” towards an unknown monkey offers hope for endangered species

A wild group of endangered Barbary macaques have been observed, for the first time, “consoling” and adopting an injured juvenile from a neighbouring group.  The observations from a researcher at Oxford University and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (ifaw) are published today in the journal Primates.

‘Pipo’, a nearly three-year-old juvenile, was seriously injured and became separated from his group following a road traffic accident. He was found distressed and alone two days later by a neighbouring group of non-related Barbary macaques. These monkeys had no social relationship with Pipo, but they approached, groomed and affiliated with him. Pipo remained with them for several months before returning to his group.

The observation in Ifrane National Park in the Middle Atlas Mountains of Morocco – one of the Barbary macaque’s last remaining areas of habitation – provides valuable information  to researchers and local communities who are trying to safeguard and boost the endangered species.

Baby macaques are illegally taken from the wild to be used as pets or street entertainment, but are often abandoned when they reach a few years of age. 

Returning rescued macaques to the wild through rehabilitation and release programmes has multiple benefits, including: freeing space in sanctuaries, improving individual welfare, minimising captive care costs, and reinforcing wild populations.

DPhil student, Liz Campbell, from the Department of Zoology, said: ‘We thought fostering may only be an option for very young monkeys, but Pipo’s case shows even older juveniles can be accepted by wild foster groups. This observation provides valuable information for rehabilitation and release strategies, which will help improve welfare of rescued macaques, strengthen wild populations, and free space in sanctuaries to allow continued confiscations to fight illegal trade.’

Barbary macaques are known for their willingness to provide care to non-direct descendants (known as allo-parental care). As such, in addition to group releases, release into wild foster groups could be a promising strategy for supporting this threatened species. The observed spontaneous fostering of Pipo at nearly three years old offers hope that even older confiscated juveniles could be candidates for fostering, if they meet critical requirements of suitability. 

Liz, said: ‘Barbary macaques are very social, so to return them to the wild they must be with a group, not as lone individuals. The conventional method for returning primates to the wild is rehabilitation and release of groups formed in captivity, but because of the attention and care that Barbary macaques, especially males, give to young, there is the possibility not only to release rehabilitated groups but also to release individual young into foster groups in the wild.’

There are currently just 8,000-10,000 Barbary macaques left in the world – in 1975 there were as many as 21,500. This research was part of “Born to be Wild,” a project initiated by AAP Animal Advocacy and Protection, executed together with the International Fund for Animal Welfare, and funded by the Dutch Postcode Lottery to protect Barbary macaques in Morocco.