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Reducing human-monkey conflict

Assessing public perceptions and solutions to human-monkey conflict from 50 years in Sri Lanka.

Authors: Dittus, Wolfgang PJ;  Gunathilake,  KA Sunil; Felder, Melissa

Folia Primatologica 90: 89-108. (2019)   DOI: 10.1159/00049602.   Research Article

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Abstract.  Sri Lanka is a biodiversity hotspot with high human density that contributes to increasing human-monkey conflict (HMC). In 50 years of primate studies there, the development of HMC has been documented, and many workshops and interventions organized to ameliorate HMC. These activities prompted the present survey. In the extensive lowland dry zone of Sri Lanka, the affected nonhuman primates are the toque macaque, gray and purple-faced langurs and slender loris. We surveyed and evaluated the attitudes of rural residents towards these four species in an effort to contribute to an ethnoprimatological approach to conservation, i.e., promote a coexistence and sharing of habitat between humans and monkeys. We selected 13 villages near Polonnaruwa, located centrally in the dry zone. The four nonhuman primate species differ in their behavioral ecologies, and this influenced how frequently they were thought of as pests. Most HMC was with the macaque and gray langur, less with the purple-faced langur and least with the loris. The underlying sentiment among stakeholders towards monkeys was generally either neutral or positive. Nonetheless, the majority (80%) of persons desired a translocation of the troublesome monkeys from their properties to protected areas, which is impractical. Few (<1%) openly wanted monkeys destroyed. While a traditional reverence for monkeys provides a solid basis for science and media-based education, it also contributes to the feeding of monkeys and consequent unnatural population growth, and enhanced HMC. Public understanding of the underlying causes of HMC was poor, hindering effective solutions. A combination of a feeding ban, possibly contraceptive intervention at […]

By |March 18th, 2019|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Reducing human-monkey conflict

Fantastic history of Sri Lanka’s mammals

The biogeography and ecology of Sri Lankan mammals point to conservation priorities

Ceylon Journal of Science 46 (Special Issue): 33-64. (2017)    Research Article

Author:  Dittus, Wolfgang PJ

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 Abstract: All mammals originated on the supercontinent of Pangaea in the Mesozoic era during the “Age of Reptiles.” However, the crown ancestors of contemporary mammals did not flourish until major environmental and biotic changes had occurred. An asteroid collided with earth at the end of the Cretaceous Period (the K-Pg boundary event) wiping out non-flying dinosaurs and primitive mammals. It was followed by large-scale volcanism, a spike in atmospheric oxygen and the proliferation of flowering plants. New niches became available for the ancestors of today’s mammals to fill. Evidence suggesting whether the ancestors of the Sri Lankan and Indian mammals originated on the tectonically marooned Indian plate before crashing into Asia or on the Laurasian supercontinent is inconclusive. Modern Sri Lankan mammals show their greatest affinity with those of southern India, and were more diverse in the Pleistocene when rhinoceros, hippopotamus, wild dogs, gaur and lions enriched the island’s landscapes. Native Sri Lankan land-based mammals are diversified into about 108 unique taxa (among 91 species and 53 genera), differentiated as phenotypic adaptations to sharply contrasting environments among seven major phyto-climatic zones. Endemic subspecies are distributed fairly equally across different phyto-climatic zones (n=24 to 29), except in the highlands where they are fewer (n=14) having evolved rapidly to species and genera among the insectivores and rodents whose reproductive rates are high. Conversely, greater numbers of endemic species (n=13) and genera (n=3) occur in the highlands than in the other zones (2-6 endemic species, no endemic genera). The prevalence of endemism is inversely related to body size […]

By |March 18th, 2019|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Fantastic history of Sri Lanka’s mammals

Smithsonian interviews Dr. Dittus

JUNE 30, 2016

For nearly 50 years, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute primatologist Wolfgang Dittus has studied and lived among the toque macaques in Sri Lanka. In our Q & A, he reveals how family relationships, intelligent behavioral strategies and a healthy environment are key to this species’ survival.

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For more than 48 years, I have been researching toque macaques at our study site in Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka. Over the years, we’ve studied more than 4,000 macaques. We want to identify key behaviors and measure how they contribute to macaques’ ability to survive and reproduce in a changing environment. One important method we use to keep track of who is who, is making ID cards for individual macaques that include their identifying characteristics.

One of my goals as a scientist is to teach people how wonderful these monkeys are. People will only be willing to help conserve species that they love. They will only love these species if they understand them, and they will only understand these species if scientists (myself included) are telling the animals’ stories.

Juvenile toque macaques are very inquisitive and much more likely to take risks than the adults. I was just standing and observing them when one juvenile approached and touched me! When I first started the study, it took me a long time to habituate these monkeys to me being there. Once they’re used to a person, they don’t run away, but they don’t necessarily approach, either. […]

By |July 11th, 2016|News Archives|Comments Off on Smithsonian interviews Dr. Dittus

The role of primates in conserving Sri Lankan biodiversity

March 2016: Dr. Dittus responds to questions from the Sri Lanka Secretariat of Biodiversity

By |April 26th, 2016|News Archives|Comments Off on The role of primates in conserving Sri Lankan biodiversity

Monkey Kingdom: Sri Lankans star in Hollywood epic

April 2015. After 3 years of filming our research subjects, the toque macaques, at our study site at Polonnaruwa, DisneyNature premiers the film in Colombo in August.

By |September 22nd, 2015|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Monkey Kingdom: Sri Lankans star in Hollywood epic

Incultrating professionalism for national development

August 2015. Dr. Dittus chairs the plenary session on Pragmatic Research for Devleopment and Prosperity at the 8th International Research Conference at the General Sir John Kotalawala Defense University

By |September 22nd, 2015|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Incultrating professionalism for national development

The importance of acknowledging the diversity of mammal subspecies

Jan 2014: Ceylon Journal of Science (Bio). Subspecies of mammals are critical to estimates of Sri Lankan biodiversity, set Sri Lanka apart from the Western Ghats as a global biodiversity hotspot and invites revision of current harmful conservation management practices.

By |August 21st, 2015|News Archives, Uncategorized|Comments Off on The importance of acknowledging the diversity of mammal subspecies

A pinch of skin to estimate body fat in monkeys

April 2015. The precision in growth and allometric development makes it possible to accurately estimate the mass of body fat in different regions of the body given the known relationship between skinfold thickness and mass of dissected adipose tissue.

By |August 21st, 2015|News Archives, Uncategorized|Comments Off on A pinch of skin to estimate body fat in monkeys

Macaque seeks refuge in U. S. embassy

January 2013. Conflicting press reports about macaque breaching  embassy security
A macaque had found its way into the U. S. embassy compound in Colombo on 20 December, 2012, and caught the attention of the leading newspaper in the American capital, the Washington Post, which ran three different articles on the event.  Sri Lankan newspapers, The Sunday Times and The Island, too, picked up the story.  All papers agree that a macaque monkey was found inside the embassy compound without triggering any security alarms.  Embassy staffers secured their offices from the intruder and alerted their own marine guards as well as the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC).  According to the Post, the U. S. marines chased the monkey into the adjoining compound – the British High Commission, but the Sri Lankan papers credited the DWC with restraining the panicked marines, capturing the tranquilized monkey and setting it free in the wild.
While newspaper reports appear to be serving different political needs, I herewith offer my own point of view.  Despite the fact that toque macaques are an endemic species, the Sri Lankan government had recently declared the species as a pest and, at the cost of millions of rupees, had distributed guns to the public to shoot macaques (a fact). Toque macaques are being persecuted in a most shoddy manner in this Buddhist country!  I suggest that this intrusive monkey most likely was an escaped or evicted pet from a Colombo residence where it had learned about its intended genocidal fate and sought asylum in the U. S. embassy.  Having been denied refuge by the Americans, it tried its luck with the Brits.
Wolfgang Dittus, PhD

By |April 8th, 2015|News Archives, Uncategorized|Comments Off on Macaque seeks refuge in U. S. embassy

Nature Education for Teachers

28 August 2012. ACPD staff instruct teachers on nature and conservation
Staff of the Smithsonian Primate Research Station conducted a wildlife conservation and nature education program for 25 school teachers from the Polonnaruwa education zone. Provincial Director for science education,  Mr.SM Saluwadane, Zonal Director for science education,and Master in charge of the nature center at the Royal college Polonnaruwa participated for the program.  This session represented an expansion of ACPD staff teaching of students, to include a new phase involving teacher training in the Polonnaruwa District.

By |April 8th, 2015|News Archives, Uncategorized|Comments Off on Nature Education for Teachers