During the first week of February, I conducted an ethogram of snow monkeys at the Central Park Zoo in New York City. The Snow Monkey is also known as the Japanese Macaque from the mountainous regions in Honshu, Japan. I spent a total of two hours studying the primates’ behaviors outside in the 45 degree freezing cold weather, but it was well worth the trip. The monkeys were surprisingly very active in their sanctuary, and clearly very pleased with the recent snowfalls as I watched them scamper around and play with the snow and drink the snow. I saw 9 snow monkeys in the primate group, and decided to concentrate my study on 6 of these 9 individuals.

Snow Monkeys at Central Park Zoo

First, I began my study by observing the overall environment and zoo habitat of the snow monkeys, and then I developed a general list of observed behaviors and wrote my own definitions for each behavioral unit, breaking them down into two categories: state behaviors (states) or event behaviors (events). Examples of states that I observed are: huddling, eating, foraging, walking, and sitting. Examples of events that I observed are: screeching, jumping, mounting, hitting, and biting.

After making a fairly comprehensive list of general behaviors, I conducted three consecutive focal animal samplings focusing on one individual at a time for 15 minutes per individual. I tabulated the frequency of event behaviors, and the durations and percentages of state behaviors observed for each focal sample. Data collected for 3 individuals showed that 30-50% of their time is spent grooming or being groomed. The types of behaviors differed depending on the age of the primate, for example the youngest focal animal exhibited very active behaviors such as running, climbing, jumping, pulling, and screeching, while the two older focal animals exhibited more calm behaviors such as grooming, being groomed, eating, and sitting.

Next, I spent one hour conducting a scan sampling of 6 individuals, noting the state of all individuals at 5-minute intervals. Afterwards, I calculated the percentage of each behavioral state observed. The group spent 20% of their time grooming, 15% sitting, 14% eating, 13% being groomed, and the other remaining time foraging, huddling, chasing, playing, and running.

Here are my logs and results of the ethogram in PDF.

During my period of observation, the snow monkeys spent by far the largest percentage of their time grooming, being groomed, and huddling. These were the primary behavioral states observed over the two-hour period from 2:40 – 3:40pm. The younger monkeys spent more of their time running, chasing, eating, and playing, while the older monkeys spent more of their time grooming, being groomed, sitting, and resting.

I was most surprised by the social bonding behaviors exhibited by the snow monkeys. For example, the snow monkeys groomed each other in pairs or threesomes, what I called “collaborative grooming” and “reciprocal grooming”, with specific combing patterns and repeated techniques for cleaning the fur. They also had a way of communicating to each other when to “switch” places by mounting their partner for 2-5 seconds, which would indicate that the other partner should lay down and be groomed.

The younger primates exhibited a repetitive behavioral pattern, which looked exactly like our game of hide-and-seek. This pattern literally involved chasing after one another, hiding under brush, hiding up high in trees, and crouching behind rocks, coming in close proximity, and then running far away again and hiding, chasing, etc. I observed this repetitive behavior several times over the course of two hours, and it seemed to be a very familiar behavioral pattern among them all.

Primatologists don’t really fully understand these social phenomena, but primates are incredibly social creatures with rituals, mature communication systems, and bonding patterns, and I like to think that primates are much more intelligent than we have the evidence or insight to prove.

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