Beyond Neutrality: the Human–Primate Interface During the Habituation Process

Abstract

Ethnoprimatology explores the ecological, social, and cultural interconnections between humans and other primates. Since the field’s emergence, researchers have examined overlapping human–primate resource use and conflict, human–primate disease transmission, primate folklore and its influence on conservation status, and primate tourism. One facet of the human–primate interface that remains underexplored from an ethnoprimatological perspective is habituation. Habituation—defined as when wild animals accept a human observer as a neutral element of their environment—has long been considered a critical first step for successful primate fieldwork. Although primatologists have explored how to accomplish habituation, little attention has been paid to habituation as a mutually modifying process that occurs between human observers and their primate study subjects. By drawing on the ethnoprimatological approach and engaging with perspectives from human–animal studies, this manuscript examines habituation as a scientific and intersubjective process. Over seven months, we documented behavioral changes in moor macaques (Macaca maura) and human participants that occur during habituation. We also conducted interviews with researchers and local field assistants to track perceptions of habituation progress. Integrating ethological measures with ethnographic material enabled us to explore how and why quantitative markers of habituation “success” differ from subjective impressions, observe habituation—and primate fieldwork in general—as a bidirectional, intersubjective experience, and come to understand habituation as a dynamic spectrum of tolerance rather than a state to be “achieved.” Collectively, these findings have important implications for future work in ethnoprimatology and habituation methodology, as well as the practice of primate fieldwork.

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Acknowledgments

We thank the Kementerian Negara Riset dan Teknologi Republik Indonesia (RISTEK) for permission to conduct research in Indonesia, and Taman Nasional Bantimurung-Bulusaraung (TNBABUL) for permission to work in the park. We are grateful to Dr. Ngakan Putu Oka for his sponsorship and to Pak Haro, Hendra, and Amir for their invaluable research assistance. We also thank Joanna Setchell and two anonymous reviewers for their constructive feedback on the manuscript. Finally, we are appreciative of Alessandro Albani, Lavinia Germani, and Alison Zak for their insight and support. This research was funded by a grant from the Graduate Student Travel Fund at San Diego State University to K. T. Hanson and grant from the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research to Erin Riley.

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Hanson, K.T., Riley, E.P. Beyond Neutrality: the Human–Primate Interface During the Habituation Process. Int J Primatol 39, 852–877 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10764-017-0009-3

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Keywords

  • Ethnoprimatology
  • Fieldwork
  • Human–animal studies
  • Intersubjectivity
  • Macaca maura
  • Mixed-methods
  • Reflexivity