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Ecotourism’s negative impact on primates

by gwcmag

An increase in primate ecotourism is having a negative effect on monkey’s behaviour, new research shows.

The study, led by the University of Portsmouth, found that this fast-growing tourism sector where tourists can conveniently reach primates via motor boats is causing stress-related behaviours in monkeys. 

The research looked at the impact of a single engine motor boat approaching a community of proboscis monkeys, an endangered species living in a remote riparian area (strips of vegetation that border rivers, streams and lakes) in Sabah, Malaysia. Proboscis monkeys are unusual looking with their very long noses, which adds to making them appealing to tourists.


Many of these boats, carrying multiple tourists, approach the primates quickly and loudly, often reaching the river banks just a few metres away from the wildlife.

The researchers found that frequent visits by such groups, which often involve an unusually high level of noise, caused stress-related behaviours in the primates such as self-scratching, an increased vigilant state, increased levels of aggression and reduced feeding.

Lead author of the study, Dr Marina Davila‐Ross, Reader in Comparative Psychology at the University of Portsmouth, said: “Our evidence shows that even a single motor boat moving slowly, with humans behaving calmly, can negatively affect the primate’s behaviour and induce stress — an impact that is likely to be larger with tourist boats. 

“The riparian area is an important habitat that has become increasingly popular to primate ecotourism, because it enables tourists to conveniently reach primates via motor boats.”

The researchers conducted the experiment by approaching the monkeys in a motor boat  with different speeds and travel distances – fast-close (approaching the monkeys for 10 seconds when 40 metres away at a speed of 14.4 km/hr), slow-close (approaching the monkey for 40 seconds when 40 metres away at a speed of 3.6 km/hr), and slow-far conditions (approaching the monkeys for 20 seconds when 100 metres away, at a speed of 3.6 km/hr).


For each condition, they compared stress-related behaviours before the boat approached with after the boat started its approach.

The results showed that the monkeys displayed stress-related behaviours for longer in the fast-close and slow-close conditions and also reduced feeding as a result of the boat approaching in the fast-close condition. They also found that male proboscis monkeys displayed more vigilant behaviour than females. 

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