Behavioral Ecology of Primates

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The study of primates is important because it provides clues about the possible behavior of human ancestors. Humans have the responsibility of caring for and managing the environment by understanding the life of the earth and preserve the already existing habitat. More so, it is essential to learn the needs of different animals regarding diets, space and group organizations. The goal is to make sure that humans maintain a sufficient wildlife habitat and if possible recreate captivity habitats to cater for orphaned animals and that at the mercy of extinction (Truppa, Spinozzi, Stegagno, and Fagot, 2009). Primate behavioral ecology is regarded as among the most rewarding research studies aimed at conserving the natural habitat.

The purpose of the research paper is focusing on the habitat of primates in a given habitat and tries to compare the behaviors with those of human beings. To conduct the research, a selected zoo is important to act as the focal point of the broader habitat of primates despite being man-made. However, the conditions are maintained similar to those of the wild and security of primate against the predators limited. The primary difference between the zoo and the wild is the degree of freedom the primates have while moving from one region to the next. This essay focuses on a YouTube video describing two primates in a zoo located in Scotland.

Video source

The YouTube link is presented in the reference section and illustrates monkeys in a zoo. The Edinburg Zoo is located in Scotland and provides all necessities for the monkey species. The 15 and a half minute video describe two monkey species living in an outdoor group. The location is Living Links to Human Evolution Research Center. The two species, Saimiri sciureus or common squirrel monkey and Cebus paella or the capuchin monkey have the same habitat and live in a mixed group. The opening of the video shows the monkey on top of trees with the two species playing together. The video was captured on 16th may 2011 in the research center.

Weather condition

The weather seems sunny based on the shadows cast by the moving monkey. The conditions seem warm in the absence of rain. The ground looks dry based on the drying glass on the background. The climate is therefore perfect for the primates as they play with the mates.

Primates’ information

The group comprises of dark-back common squirrel monkeys and brown capuchin monkey living as a community. The species mentioned above are Cebus apella and Saimiri sciureus (Capuchin and common squirrel monkeys respectively) (Truppa, Spinozzi, Stegagno, & Fagot, 2009).

Natural habitat in the natural world

Capuchin monkeys are only found in one geographical location, South America in nations such as Ecuador, Suriname, Guiana, Venezuela, Brazil, and Peru (Truppa, Spinozzi, Stegagno, and Fagot, 2009). To the contrary, the genus Cebus can naturally inhabit a wider habitat and to some extent in all Neotropical forests. Therefore, the species is able to survive within a broad range of forest habitats. It is for such reasons that the non-human primate is referred to as adaptable primate. The species natural environment includes deep rainforest, swamp forest, tropical moist forest and mountain forest.

Section 3: Primate Behaviors

The main concern on behaviors focuses on Cebus paella. The table below illustrates the primate’s operational definition, the reason behind the behavior and the number of observations.

Non-human primate behavior

Primate Operational

Definition (POD)

Behavioral purpose

Observational times




primate care

The infant clings to the mother as a sign of protection from other primates under the same species and neighboring primates.

The goal is to protect the prone young ones

from the bigger males and rival females


Cebus apella

Alpha Status

Popeye, a female primate shows an indifferent response as other primates approaches members of the same species. The response is initially indifferent followed by exclusive submissive postures as it approaches the male Cebus. Rapid touching and fleeing continues as a sign of acceptance to the other non-human primate of the same species.

The behavior of a subordinate male sexuality of the targeted primate.



In case of a group fission, the non-human primate maintains a close connection.

The aim is to create a barrier from other primate as a sign of protection. The primates are able to defend their territory.

Very rare


Oblique head tilt. The capuchin moves its head from side to side.

The primates try to seek attention mostly from other non-human primates of the same species.

Few times


The purpose describes food presence and differential rainfall. Their body responds to their natural instincts.

The purpose of the behavior is to reproduce new offsprings. Reproduction is a way of bring in new life to carry the trait of the species for generations.

Several times

Natal groups

The females maintains a close relationship with other females

Socialization. The gender relationships brings together the primates as the ‘pass time’ at the same time introducing the young ones to other females.

Few times

Comparing and contrasting with human behaviors

Regarding the groups of the squirrel monkey, a clear mixture of behaviors between female and male interactions can be drawn based on a comparison with those presented by human beings. An example from the YouTube video is the young mother monkeys that spend most of their time with another female counterpart of the same species. The female seems to act out as the fellow counterpart males and young monkeys stay with their peers. Another character present is aggressiveness mostly occurring during the mating period (Truppa, Spinozzi, Stegagno, & Fagot, 2009). The adult males are the most aggressive and to some point fighting each other over the female primates. Generally, the species have a close relationship with humans mostly while focusing on interaction. Humans and specifically female gender spend considerable time discussing an issue such as marriage life. It is rare for a female to approach a man in need of guidance when compared to the close connection between women while discussing particular private matters. Such a relationship can be drawn from the squirrel female monkey as they gather in a group for socialization.

The most challenging method in the non-human primate video was trying to focus on the type of diet needed for the two species. As the monkey move along the tied rope and trying to access the tied boxes with fruits, there is only one part where one monkey can be seen eating an apple as he plays with the peers. Generally, it was challenging to draw evidence supporting the type of diet for the two species in their natural habitat.

The best approach I would consider in the research study is the use of the ethogram method to allow the inclusion of classical and non-classical procedures while learning the primate behavior. The goal is to collect not only the qualitative data but also quantify the findings. The illustrations of the primate behavior should be of high precision and have a mutual exclusivity. Primates have been documented as the closest species in the human genome. Such literature gives a reason as to why they are referred to as the closest living ancestors to modern man because of a close genetic comparison. Humans have the ability to protect the primates against anthropomorphic because primates are considered as intelligent species close to man.

Impact of the captive environment

Every species regardless of the state of intelligence needs the freedom to avoid social and psychological related implications similar to those of human psychology. Space and freedom allow an animal to express its natural instincts that are passed to its next generation. Regarding the concept of captivity, humans and animals present the same psychological response although the state of ethics varies between species. A zoo is similar to a captive environment where the monkeys have no alternative but to live within the boundaries of the artificial environment. The environment has a negative impact on non-human primates because of the presence of a large number of unfamiliar humans who come to visit the zoo without recognizing the psychology of the monkeys. Space is limited and the monkeys live in a controlled environment where they cannot express their natural instincts. Such characteristics give reasons as to why the non-human primates represent serious to severe behavioral abnormities such as jeopardized psychological and mental health effects resulting from lack of sufficient space (Truppa, Spinozzi, Stegagno, and Fagot, 2009). More so, the ethical considerations are not as widely considered as in humans exposing the monkeys to preventable illness and disorders.

Conclusion and reflection

The YouTube video gives a good illustration of the common and varying behavioral characters of humans and non-human primates. The video shows few similar characteristics some of which can be termed as basic instinct but others show a common relationship only between the two species. Natal group, bipedal behaviors, parental care, matrilineal, and natal groups are good example shared by human and non-human primates. When focusing on the video from a research Center, my expectation was that the non-human primates would present better behaviors if they were placed in their natural/uncaged environments (Truppa, Spinozzi, Stegagno, and Fagot, 2009).

The monkeys would have a variety of trees to cross, wider grounds to play and wide varieties of diets such as fruits and jungle leaves. Most often, the primate utilizes an environment without modifying the or adaptively shaping their surrounding habitat or environment. The capuchin monkey provides a remarkable exception because of the tools the primate use to gather food and water. These are natural traits that are taught by the adults and not related to genetically behavioral patterns. Therefore, every species has different tools that have developed from generation to the next and specific for a particular species. The captivity is a challenge because it limits the passage of the trait from the mother monkeys to the young ones that are depended on the habitat already developed to sustain them.


Barrett, J. E. (1985). Behavioral Pharmacology of the Squirrel Monkey. Handbook of Squirrel Monkey Research, 315-348. Doi: 10.1007/978-1-4757-0812-7_13

Student resource - 15 minute Animal Behavior sampling video. (2011, May 16). Retrieved from

August 09, 2023


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