Dancing monkeys of Pakistan found to have highly elevated levels of stress hormones
A pair of veterinary medicine specialists at the University of Glasgow has found that the famous dancing monkeys of Pakistan have highly elevated levels of stress hormones. In their study, published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science, Mishaal Akbar and Neil Price Evans, obtained and tested fur samples from tamed captive dancing monkeys in Pakistan and compared the level of stress hormones in them with similar monkeys living on a primate sanctuary in Florida.
The rhesus macaque, known more commonly as the rhesus monkey, is a species of small, old-world monkey typically weighing between 5.3 to 7.7kg. They are native to South and Central Asia and parts of the Middle East. Such monkeys are well known throughout the world due to their cuteness and intelligence as well as their use as pets, lab test animals and trained assets.
They have also been commonly used by some trainers to assist with earning money—in days past, they would appear with organ grinders as a means of goading passersby into tossing coins into a tin cup. In modern times, many of them are known as part of an attraction in Middle Eastern countries such as Pakistan, where they have been trained to dance. In this new effort, the researchers wondered about the impact of such activities on the little monkeys.
The monkeys are taken from their mothers while young and are taught to dance—typically in ways that are thought to be cute or humorous. They are always kept on leashes attached to a collar around their neck. Dancing typically takes place on sidewalks and street corners. As the monkeys dance, people who pass by are encouraged by the handler to make a donation. For many handlers, it is their only means of income.
To learn more about the emotional state of such monkeys, the researchers made arrangements with a group of handlers who allowed them to collect chest and shoulder hair samples from 50 of the dancer monkeys working in Islamabad. The researchers also collected hair samples from 77 rhesus monkeys living a relatively carefree existence in a primate sanctuary in Florida.
Comparison of the hair samples showed those monkeys made to dance had on average 55% higher levels of cortisol than those who lived in the sanctuary—a finding that suggests the dancing monkeys are under nearly constant stress. They also found levels of testosterone (all the monkeys tested were male) in dancing monkeys were on average 55% lower than for those living in a sanctuary—a sign that they had accepted their fate and saw their trainer as dominant over them.
More information: Mishaal Akbar et al, Elevated hair cortisol and decreased hair testosterone indicates chronic disruption of the HPA/HPG axis and is reflective of poor welfare in Rhesus Macaques used as performing (dancing) monkeys in Pakistan, Applied Animal Behaviour Science (2023). DOI: 10.1016/j.applanim.2023.106111
Journal information: Applied Animal Behaviour Science
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