The Hand That Feeds the Monkey: Mutual Influence of Humans and Rhesus Macaques (Macaca mulatta) in the Context of Provisioning

Abstract

Historically, humans and other primates (primates henceforth) have coexisted across cultures and contexts, and many primate populations use anthropogenic food sources as their main or supplementary food. While primates may actively forage for such food, they are also directly provisioned by humans in many regions. Ethnoprimatology views humans and primates as cohabitants of integrated socioecological spaces who mutually influence each other’s ecologies and social lives. We contextualized provisioning of primates by humans within an ethnoprimatological framework and examined if the availability of anthropogenic food affected primate diets or the amount of time primates spent in anthropogenic habitats and whether primates influenced the human act of provisioning. To this end, we used scan sampling on a group of rhesus macaques across a year, and conducted interviews with 86 people who paused at a nearby tea shop for refreshments. We found that the macaques’ consumption of natural resources and dietary diversity decreased, and they spent more time in human-modified habitats when provisioned food was available. We also found that particular behaviors of the provisioned macaques stimulated provisioning by humans. Our findings show that provisioning influences macaque feeding ecology and habitat use, and that the behavior of the macaques themselves drives people to provide them with food subsidies, illustrating a complex web of interactions between the sympatric species.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank the West Bengal Forest Department for granting research permits. They also thank Erin P. Riley for taking the initiative in organizing the symposium entitled “Expanded Ecologies: Theoretical and Methodological Advancements in the Study of the Human-Primate Interface,” at the Joint Meeting of the International Primatological Society and the American Society of Primatology, Chicago, 2016, where a part of this work was presented. Suresh Roy and Netra Prasad Sharma provided invaluable assistance during field data collection. The study was funded by the Science and Engineering Research Board, Department of Science and Technology, Government of India (contract grant number: SB/SO/AS-128/2012) awarded to S. Radhakrishna. The authors also thank Joanna M. Setchell and the four anonymous reviewers for their extremely insightful comments that helped improve the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Asmita Sengupta.

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Sengupta, A., Radhakrishna, S. The Hand That Feeds the Monkey: Mutual Influence of Humans and Rhesus Macaques (Macaca mulatta) in the Context of Provisioning. Int J Primatol 39, 817–830 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10764-018-0014-1

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Keywords

  • Ethnoprimatology
  • Feeding ecology
  • Habitat use
  • Provisioning
  • Rhesus macaque