No monkey business when they ask for food

Wild monkeys in Karnataka’s Bandipur National Park are deliberately communicating with people using novel behaviour, shows a study published on April 12 in Scientific Reports, an open access online journal for primary research on natural and clinical sciences. This unusual inter-species communication is happening between bonnet macaques (peninsular Indian monkeys) and tourists, with the simians using new gestures and sounds to request for food.

Behavioural primatologist Anindya Sinha of Bengaluru’s National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) first observed macaques using a soft ‘coo’ call to do this in 1993. But such intentional behaviour requires higher cognitive capabilities and is recorded only in humans and some apes. So, in 2015, Dr. Sinha and his colleagues investigated it further: they observed 86 food-requesting interactions between macaques and tourists in Bandipur and conducted simple field experiments.

Bandipur’s macaques showed four types of deliberate food-requesting behaviour. Apart from the ‘coo call,’ they oriented their bodies in a tourist’s line of sight to catch the person’s attention. If the food-carrying tourist met a macaque’s gaze, the monkey would extend its hand in an obvious request for food. The monkeys also continuously monitored people during these food-requesting events, but stopped this scanning when they received food.

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