Zoo Field Trip--Primate Observation
When you first walk up to a cage of animals, the behavior of the individuals may appear to be erratic and random However, many of these behaviors are stereotyped and are responses to specific situations. You need to be patient. It takes time to observe accurately, to realize what is actually happening, to recognize patterns of behavior and ultimately to be able to interpret why certain things are occurring.
Behaviors are best seen as motor activities, that is, physical movements. A real danger is to read emotion and motivations into the behavior of nonhuman animals. Without being able to interview nonhuman primates, you really do not know what it going on in their minds. The best you can do is to carefully and accurately describe the physical activity of the animal and note its context.
Write a narrative of the activities in the cage over a period of thirty minutes. You might want to write this as a list of individual behavioral events. For each event carefully describe what is occurring, who is involved (if two or more individuals are involved, note who initiates the activity and toward whom it is directed), where the event is taking place (what part of the cage), what parts of the habitat are involved, and approximately how long the event lasts.
Do not panic if too much is happening too fast. Zero in on one event at a time, and donít worry if something else is happening at the other end of the cage at the same time. As you write your notes, you will need to refer to individual animals. The best method is to use a code, such as referring to the adult male as AM, adult female as AF, infant male as IM, and so on. If there are two adult females in the cage, you can refer to them as AF1 and AF2.
After you have completed your observations, read your notes carefully. Are there any behavioral patterns emerging? Are there certain sets of behaviors that appear to occur over and over? If so, carefully note them.
After you have read your notes, read the following descriptions of some of the behaviors you may have observed.
Agnostic Behavior. Agnostic behavior is any behavior that involves fighting, threats, and fleeing. It is usually associated with the development of a dominance hierarchy, in which some animals are dominant or subordinate to other animals. Among the agonistic behavior patterns are the following:
Mounting The dominant animal will mount the subordinate one.
Grooming Grooming is a behavior in which an animal goes through the fur looking for and removing insects, dirt, dead skin, and so on. This is accomplished with the hand or, in prosimians, with the dental comb. Grooming is often an expression of close bonding and will occur between related adult females, females and their young, and a male and a female in a courtship relationship.
Autogrooming This is the act of grooming oneself.
Allogrooming This is the act of grooming another animal.
Stare A simple stare can act as a threat gesture. Many primates possess distinctively colored eyelids that are exposed when the animal stares.
Lip Smacking In this gesture the animal opens and closes the lips rapidly with the tongue darting in and out. This is used as an appeasement gesture on the part of a subordinate animal. It also occurs during grooming.
You can get some other ideas of what to look for from Ch. 4 of your Haviland text. Be sure to note both the common name and the taxonomic name of the animals you observe. Write an essay describing which of these behaviors you observed. The final paper should include both a list of behaviors and the essay describing them.