strange behaviors

Cool doings from the natural and human worlds

  • Richard Conniff

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    Every Creeping Thing: True Tales of Faintly Repulsive Wildlife: “Conniff is a splendid writer–fresh, clear, uncondescending, and with never a false step; one can’t resist quoting him.” (NY Times Book Review)

    The Species Seekers:  Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth by Richard Conniff is “a swashbuckling romp” that “brilliantly evokes that just-before Darwin era” (BBC Focus) and “an enduring story bursting at the seams with intriguing, fantastical and disturbing anecdotes” (New Scientist). “This beautifully written book has the verve of an adventure story” (Wall St. Journal)

    Swimming with Piranhas at Feeding Time by Richard Conniff  is “Hilariously informative…This book will remind you why you always wanted to be a naturalist.” (Outside magazine) “Field naturalist Conniff’s animal adventures … are so amusing and full color that they burst right off the page …  a quick and intensely pleasurable read.” (Seed magazine) “Conniff’s poetic accounts of giraffes drifting past like sail boats, and his feeble attempts to educate Vervet monkeys on the wonders of tissue paper will leave your heart and sides aching.  An excellent read.” (BBC Focus magazine)

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Posts Tagged ‘chimpanzees’

Should We Test a Vaccine for Wild Chimps on Captive Ones?

Posted by Richard Conniff on May 27, 2014

(Photo: Guenter Guni/Getty Images)

(Photo: Guenter Guni/Getty Images)

My latest for Takepart:

Let’s say you have a technology that could save chimpanzee and gorilla species, our closest primate kin, from the almost certain prospect of extinction in the wild. But to make it work, you must first do biomedical testing on captive chimpanzees, a practice that has been denounced as cruel and largely unnecessary by the revered primatologist Jane Goodall and many others.

That’s the ethical dilemma posed by a study appearing today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It notes that outbreaks of the Ebola virus “have killed roughly one-third of the world gorilla population,” leading in 2007 to the listing of western gorillas as critically endangered. It also reports the results of the first experiment to vaccinate captive chimpanzees against this notorious disease.

While the immediate focus is on Ebola, the coauthors, led by University of Cambridge population biologist Peter D. Walsh, suggest that the study sets a precedent. Effective human vaccines often languish because drug companies cannot justify the huge expense of doing proper trials to bring them to market, especially when they treat conditions found only in impoverished regions. Hence the Ebola vaccine in the study remains unavailable for human use. But “our study demonstrates that it is feasible,” the coauthors write, “even for modestly funded ape conservationists to adapt such orphan vaccines as Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Conservation and Extinction | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Strange (and Sweet) Primate Behaviors

Posted by Richard Conniff on October 22, 2013

A bonobo consoles a distraught pal (Photo: Clay & DeWaal)

A bonobo consoles a distraught pal (Photo: Clay & DeWaal)

One of the persistent myths about the natural world is that animals live in a constant state of aggression, confrontation, and even open combat.  But even relatively brutal chimpanzees spend only about five percent of their day in aggressive encounters–and 20 percent grooming social allies.

The truth is that the social and emotional lives of other primates are in many ways a lot like our own, and two new studies add to the growing evidence.  In the first, published in Evolution and Human Behavior, the researchers found that chimpanzees, like humans, typically form friendships with individuals who have similar personalities. Researchers Jorg J. M. Massen and Sonja E. Koski spent hundreds of hours observing chimpanzee troops at two European zoos, paying particular attention to individuals who liked to sit together.  These friends turned out to be similar in sociability based on how much time they spent grooming, and whether they liked to hang out in a crowd, or off on the periphery.  They also resembled each other in boldness—that is, the willingness to mob an apparent threat, like an artificial snake.

That suggests why friendships may matter as much to chimps as to humans: They make it more likely that individuals will find a mate, reproduce, keep the kids alive, and stay well themselves.  Friends also support each other in conflicts.  For chimps, as for humans, having friends is natural and necessary. These are social creatures, never meant to live in isolation.

The other study, just out in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, looks at the emotional lives of bonobos, a separate chimp species thought to be even more closely related to humans. Researchers from Emory University studied bonobos rescued from the bushmeat and pet trades, at a forested sanctuary on the outskirts of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  The emotional life of non-human primates is “still rather a taboo subject in animal behavior,” co-author Zanna Clay told TakePart, in an email.  Old School researchers suspect it as a form of Read the rest of this entry »

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