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

Habituation to tourists: protective or harmful?


Math/Science, Kirkwood Community College

Friday Afternoon, 301D Add to calendar

Human-modified habitats can have devastating consequences for primate populations. Mining, extractive foraging, agriculture, logging, etc., all dramatically change the landscape in which primates reside, often with dire consequences for the animals. Tourism projects, on the other hand, attempt to protect forest habitats and preserve primate populations for tourist enjoyment. Forests may be only minimally disturbed, and primates often habituate to tourist presence. This scenario begs the question: does habituation to tourists result in unintended negative consequences? I conducted a systematic study of tourism impact on red howler monkey health and behavior at Brownberg Natuurpark in Suriname, South America. My results demonstrate that monkeys living in close proximity to tourists are habituated to tourist presence (they responded less often to human disturbance than monkeys with infrequent human interactions). I also found, however, that tourist area monkeys changed their behavior patterns over the long term in response to tourist presence in ways that could affect their energy balance or nutritional status. Health comparisons between more- and less-habituated monkey groups also revealed poorer health in the habituated monkeys indicating that habituation may have made the monkeys more vulnerable to these negative effects. These results are especially important in the context of primate population management and ethnoprimatology, as tourism projects are promoted as conservation tools in many parts of the world.

This research was funded by the Rackham Graduate School and the Department of Anthropology at the University of Michigan, and by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.

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