The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

Varying responses to tourist interactions by white-faced capuchins (Cebus imitator) and mantled howlers (Alouatta palliata) in a Costa Rican wildlife refuge


Sixth Form Academy, City of Bristol College

Friday Afternoon, 301D Add to calendar

While ecotourism shows potential for primate conservation in human-modified habitats, data concerning the specific effects of tourist presence are limited. This study measured human interactions with white-faced capuchins (Cebus imitator) and mantled howlers (Alouatta palliata) at the CurĂº Wildlife Refuge in western Costa Rica. Data were collected through 15-minute whole-group scan samples between January 2006 and December 2007.

For the capuchins, 545 samples (136.25 hours) were collected, representing 1,080 human-monkey interactions. The capuchins encountered 26.68 people per hour, and engaged in 8.75 interactions per hour. Mean interaction length was 63.3 seconds. Multiple actors were involved in 45% of interactions. Humans initiated 32.68% of interactions with this troop. There was no relationship between tourist numbers and the frequency of interactions (r=0.322, p=0.134). For the howlers, 611 samples (152.75 hours) were collected, yielding 305 interactions. This troop encountered 13.44 people per hour, and engaged in 1.98 interactions per hour. Mean interaction length was 461.3 seconds. Adult males were the principal actors in 66.12% of interactions, and 68.09% of interactions were initiated by humans. Interaction rates for the howlers were related to tourist numbers (r=0.670, p=0.000).

These data suggest that the qualitative differences in human-monkey interactions are more important than their relative frequency. At this site, howlers seem most vulnerable to noise disturbance, while capuchins are at higher risk of disease transmission through provisioning. This study illustrates the need to shift focus from tourist numbers to tourist behavior, and suggests that species-specific guidelines for ecotourism would reduce visitor impact on non-human primates.

This research was funded by research grants from Earthwatch Institute, Conservation International, and The Ohio State University.

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