Category Archives: News

“Scarred for life: the other side of pet and entertainment chimpanzees”

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Early living conditions greatly  affect their social capacities

  • A recent study published in the scientific journal  PLoS ONE, based on data collected over 12 years on former pet and entertainment chimpanzees housed at Fundació MONA, highlights that early trauma affects chimpanzees’ grooming competencies throughout their life.
  • Grooming is a key social behaviour in primates, which plays a significant role in bonding and reconciliation after conflicts.
  • Chimpanzees that have been poached from their natural habitat, most likely witnessing the killing of their mother and/or group members, and transported under deplorable conditions to Europe, showed to be far less active groomers compared to captive born chimpanzees.
  • Similarly, chimpanzees that have been predominantly housed without access to conspecifics during the first 5 years of their life are less active when it comes to grooming, compared to those that used to live with other chimpanzees. 
  • Traumatic life experiences and unfavourable living conditions in their infancy produce long lasting social limitations, impacting their social behaviours, regardless of the current living conditions .
  • The results of this study suggest that, similar to humans, chimpanzees experience a very sensitive social and emotional development phase during infancy, and traumatic experiences in that time can have a lasting impact on their future behaviour and quality of life.

 

Background

Due to deforestation, increasing human activities in their natural habitat, and the threat of poaching, all great ape species ―chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans― are either classified as endangered or critically endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Since the 1950s thousands of chimpanzees have been taken from the wild in order to be shipped to USA, Asia, and Europe. Others were obtained through captive breeding, but all with the intention to be used for biomedical research, the entertainment industry, or to be held as pets.

Sadly, due to the legal situations and missing funding, most of these chimpanzees never escaped this destiny and only a very small percentage could be confiscated to be rehabilitated and introduced into social groups at primate rescue centres.

While there is nothing that can be done about their past, after having suffered for the gain and entertainment of humans, we now have the obligation to care for and offer the best living conditions possible for these animals. Being able to do so, depends greatly on our capacity to understand what these animals experienced and how they were affected by their past.

 

What is the other side of their use and abuse as former pets and entertainment chimpanzees?

While there are some studies focusing on the effects of laboratory housing on non-human primates, very little is known in this regard.

A Spanish-Austrian research team funded by the ” la Caixa Foundation”, including researchers from the Fundació MONA, the University of Girona and the Univerity of Graz, are working with former pet and entertainment chimpanzees to gain a better understanding on how and to what degree these animals are affected by their past and current living conditions.

Dietmar Crailsheim, PHD student at the Girona University and researcher at Fundació MONA states: “Although it is of utmost importance to advance in the field of conservation and to raise awareness in order to ensure that less animals have to suffer similar destinies as those former pet and entertainment chimpanzees we currently work with, we should not forget about the animals that are, or until recently were, still trapped in these abusive and damaging situations. Part of our responsibility is to fully understand their limitations, needs, and capacities in order to be able to provide them with an adequate environment and allowing them to live a life worth living.”

“Moreover, we could show that the housing conditions during infancy affect social grooming as well, as we found chimpanzees who were mainly housed in solitary confinements spent less time grooming compared to chimpanzees who were mainly socially housed during their first five years of life”, says last author Elfriede Kalcher-Sommersguter of the University of Graz.

 

 What is the “scar” left in these animals?

In the words of Dr. Miquel Llorente ― research supervisor and Research Manager of Fundació Mona― : “Despite the years that have elapsed since they arrived at MONA, the emotional scar remains present in these subjects. They are socially impaired for life. Nevertheless, the new life of these individuals in social groups, where they can develop new social skills, in large naturalized and complex enclosures, as well as a correct cognitive and emotional stimulation, may improve their quality of life. It is our moral responsibility.” “These results,” emphasizes Dr. Llorente, “highlight the importance of investigating these abused animals to improve the well-being and management practices of chimpanzees with traumatic backgrounds, as well as guaranteeing the economic viability of recovery centres that work day-to-day for the welfare and conservation of primates. ”

 

The results mentioned here have been published in the journal PLOS ONE:

Crailsheim, H.P. Stüger, E. Kalcher-Sommersguter & M. Llorente (2020). Early life experience and alterations of group composition shape the social grooming networks of former pet and entertainment chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). PLOS ONE. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0226947

 



TV crew visits us to learn about Erasmus

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MONA is a renowned center for the training of people who want to gain experience working with primates. Since 2015 we are an entity accredited by the Spanish National Agency to receive and also send volunteers abroad to carry out projects financed by the European Commission.

Hence, we recently had the visit of a TV crew from RTVE. They showcased the experience of one or our dearest European Solidarity Corps volunteer, who enjoys an Erasmus grant.

If you missed it (MONA from minute 13.30 on):

 

If you wish to apply for an Eramus grant yourself and be a volunteer at the European Solidarity Corps, here you have more info.

 


VII Iberian Primatology Conference

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Empathy, Education and Conservation: Primates in a shared world

This year the event took place in Lisbon and this is where our Research team flew, along with some of the students of the Masters in Primatology of Fundació Universitat de Girona and Fundació MONA (http://masterprimatologiaudg.com).

The presentations were very interesting and enriching, showing a good “level of health” of Iberian Primatology. As always, new bonds and future collaborations were created in order to continue learning about our evolutionary family and working for their conservation and well-being. And we came back with a great reward for our work: winning 4 of the 5 awards were handed out:

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Paternity test and other surprises

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As you know, we are part of an international study of the chimpanzee genome, led by a team of scientists from the Institute of Evolutionary Biology (CSIC-UPF). The aim is to find the countries of origin (in Africa) of the victims of illegal trafficking and thus being able to pressure local governments to implement measures to stop this trafficking as currently they usually wash their hands in the absence of evidence.

When Dr. Marquès and team presented the results, some of them caught us by surprise. The samples taken by the caretakers of each of the chimpanzees were used to determine their subspecies and the hypothetical country of origin. But in addition to the original purpose, the samples were used to verify possible kinship relationships and have uncovered a reality: half of the stories former owners told us or those stated in their official papers, are fake!

Why? Surely because in the years when there were no id chips, the official ID papers transfered from chimpanzee to chimpanzee as they died; or new baby chimps were claimed to belong to parents with legal papers, in order to obtain permits for the undocumented animals.

Thus, kinships between individuals we thought were real, have turned out not to be: such as Marco and Charly’s brotherhood, or the paternity between Toni and Nico, which have been genetically ruled out. Even information in the chimps official papers (CITES) where it says they were born in one country has been proved to be untrue as the DNA places their origin in another country thousands of kilometers away. In the case of Victor, who was supposed to have been born in Mali, was shown to be a hybrid of two chimpanzee subspecies that do not share the same habitat, meaning he was born in captivity.

You can imagine our faces… But also unexpected kinships appeared: Nico, who suddenly has become an orphan, turns out to have a kinship of 3rd grade with Marco, which means, they are cousins or Marco is his great-uncle.


Stopping acting animals: essential to fight against illegal trade

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The importance of raising your voice

The well-known restaurant booking platform ElTenedor released an ad in which they used a young chimp. MONA took action and launched a petition demanding that the brand withdraw it. Within a few days, more than 36,000 people had signed the petition on Change.org, and ElTenedor withdrew its advertising campaign and promised not to use chimpanzees or other wild animals in their commercials.

We want to congratulate ElTenedor for making the right decision and being so receptive to our message. Surely they will serve as an inspiration for many other brands that, due to ignorance, continue to use wild animals in their advertising campaigns.

Why is it important that ElTenedor withdrew its ad with a young chimpanzee? 

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New veterinary annex

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You already know that chimpanzees are very long-lived and that some of MONA’s inhabitants are getting old. Age-related illnesses begin to be the order of the day, including a number of different heart problems.

If anaesthesia is a risk for an aging animal, imagine when the concerned individual suffers from heart problems.

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7 primate species, one step closer to extinction

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Only 29% of all primate species are not threatened

The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) updated the data of the Red List of Threatened Species. And it is no good news

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5 actions against animal experimentation

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Following the recent news about the filtering of a video recorded in the facilities of a German laboratory, the debate on the use of animals for research has been rekindled.

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Informative session: Masters & Postgraduate in Primatology

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*** LAST PLACES TO COURSE THE MASTER IN PRIMATOLOGY ***

The study of the behavior of primates is one of the fundamental sciences for the understanding of the evolution and genesis of human behavior, as well as for the conservation of these species in the wild and their care in captivity in the best well-being conditions.

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