Sunday, October 08, 2006

A penny for your thoughts

Emotion amongst animals is supposed to indicate a higher level of cranial activity. I am certain that Howler monkeys display emotion. Cognizance of time, past and future is another area that we can explore.

Sussy, Sophie and Emma display very strong emotions. All three of these females have attacked other howlers with great viciousness and purpose. These were not ‘go away’, attacks, meant to warn off the other party. These were attacks, which could have led to the death or bad disfigurement of the animal attacked.
Sussy attacked the very young Emma, when we expected her to take Emma under her wing and mother her. At that time, Sussy was going through an emotional crisis of her own. The little Marco, that she had fostered and carried around on her back for so long, was now fully-grown and sexually active. He spent much of his day teasing Sussy to the point where he would make her cry. Finally, we had to separate them for periods of the day. Was this the cause of her antagonism to the new arrival? Did she think that the little female was a rival?

We thought that Sophie might make a companion for Emma. This was before Schatov’s arrival. She reacted exactly as Sussy had but this time we were on our guard and prevented the attack from developing.

In recent days, Emma has developed a dislike for Mañiña. This is in spite of the fact that Mañiña is a much larger animal. Is this a case of the abused abusing as with humans? I have asked that question before. This is a complex jigsaw. Why would she adore Schatov and hate Mañiña? She is also fond of Imanol. Both Schatov and Imanol are very young and small in comparison with Mañiña. Could she be protecting her, yet unthought-of offspring?
Infanticide is the major cause of infant mortality in red howler monkeys. Mothers try to protect their infants from invading males, but with only a 25 percent success rate.
Fierce sexual competition often exists between male howler monkeys; members of a bachelor troop will fight with a male in charge of a female troop in an attempt to take over. Males are expelled from their natal groups upon reaching sexual maturity, and must invade an outside troop to gain admittance. Once a male successfully enters a new group, he kills all infants present, thus insuring all offspring belong to him. Some years ago, before we decided on using enclosures, our monkeys ranged free in the canopy around the compound. The dominant Howler at that time pursued a smaller male and badly injured him. On another occasion, the same dominant male killed a very small baby in our group.
Since we adopted the enclosures, we have been able to select the occupants to ensure that they are compatible.
These are strong primitive drives that we see working here. But what is not clear, is why females adopt aggressive roles.
Sophie watches obsessively for a chance to attack Imanol. She even watches shadows under her door to see if he might be on the outside.
Time is a philosophic entity, and one would not expect a Howler to appreciate time. Every day I mix the monkey’s milk shake and everyday Imanol and MonaLisa try to help themselves to the mix but before the shake is ready. Every day I tell them to wait but in vain. The concept of ‘ready in one minute’ is not understood.
Persistence of an idea can be demonstrated. Some months ago, Rosita was involved in an incident with Mañiña. She was playing on the ropes at the top of his enclosure and being very small she was able to exit through the wire on the roof, into a very tall tree. Luis Angel, seeing the danger of the little one getting lost in the big tree, rapidly caught hold of her and pulled her back into the enclosure. She squawked and Mañiña grabbed her by the tale and bit her quite hard. This was just his knee jerk reaction to the situation, he did not intend to hurt her and in fact, they are now very good friends. However, Rosita identified Luis Angel as the cause of her problem and since then she cries out every time he is anywhere near her.

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