Arxiu d'etiquetes: Barbary macaque

The problem of wild animals as pets

Although the first animals we think of as life partners are dogs or cats, the truth is that unfortunately many people decide to have a wild or exotic animal at home. Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs, sugar gliders, fennec foxes, meerkats, raccoons, monkeys… Is it possible to have a wild animal in good condition at home? What are the issues we can find? What wild mammals do people have as pets? We invite you to continue reading to find out.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A DOMESTIC ANIMAL AND A WILD ONE?

A domestic animal is an animal that has lived with humans for thousands of years. During the history of our species we have artificially selected these animals to obtain benefits, such as food, companionship or protection, like dogs, which have even co-evolved with us. Most domestic animals could not survive in the wild, as they would not know how to find food or would be easy prey for predators. Those who survive when abandoned, like some dogs or cats, cause serious problems to wildlife or even people.

 lobo perro dog wolf perro lobo
Some domestic animals, such as certain dog breeds (right), resemble their wild counterparts (wolf, left), which gives rise to the false idea that wild animals can be domesticated. Photo: unknown

And a wild animal? Many people confuse wild animal with ferocious or dangerous animal. A wild animal is an animal that has not been domesticated, that is, its species has not been in contact with people (at least not for thousands of years as the domestic ones). The fact that some wild animals are not dangerous (or not at all) for us, that they appear in series and movies, some celebrities own them and the desire to have a “special” animal at home, continues favoring the purchase-sale of these animals as pets.

monkey mono capuchino marcel ross friends
The character of Ross in the world-famous series ‘Friends’ had a capuchin monkey, which has to be donated when it reaches sexual maturity for aggressive behavior. Source

WHAT PROBLEMS DOES IMPLY TO HAVE A WILD ANIMAL AT HOME?

PROBLEMS FOR PEOPLE

The main reason why wild or exotic animals cause problems for humans is the lack of knowledge of the species: some have very specific diets that are practically impossible to reproduce in captivity. Others may live longer than the owner, be very noisy, occupy a lot of space, have nocturnal habits, transmit diseases or be poisonous. This results in maintenance difficulties and changes in  the behavior of the animal, until it becomes dangerous for its owner. The consequence is usually the abandonment of the animal, which will cause death, cause problems in nature or very high maintenance costs if they end up in a wildlife rescue center (according to Fundació Mona, keeping a chimpanzee costs 7,000 euros a year. Their life expectancy is 60 years: 420,000 euros in total for a single animal).

Raccoons undergo behavioral changes and may attack their owners. Source

Many species released in the wild end up being invasive, endangering the native ecosystems. If you want to know the difference between introduced and invasive species, read this post. To know the threats they pose to ecosystems, visit this post.

Do not forget that the purchase, sale and possession of many wild animals is totally illegal.

PROBLEMS FOR ANIMALS

Animals must live in an environment where their needs, both physical and mental, can be met. Although we put all our good intentions, give love and spend money keeping a wild animal, we  will never be able to reproduce their natural conditions. Lack of space, contact with other animals of their species, time searching for food, temperature conditions, humidity, light… the animal can not develop its normal behavior even if it is in the most optimal conditions of captivity.

The consequences that will suffer an animal that has not met their needs implies health problems (diseases, growth deficit…) and behavior (stereotypic-compulsive movements, self-injury, anxiety, aggression…).

A fennec fox, a carnivorous animal of the desert, in an evident state of illness. According to social networks, because he was being fed a vegan diet. According to its owner, Sonia Sae, because it is allergic to pollen despite following a vegan diet. Be that as it may, it is clear that the pollen amounts in Sahara have nothing to do with those of Europe. Source

Finally, the most serious consequence when we acquire a wild animal is that we are favoring the trafficking of animals, the death of thousands of them during transport to our house and even their extinction. Animal trafficking is the second cause of biodiversity loss on our planet, behind the destruction of habitats.

Slow loris are nocturnal and poisonous animals that are marketed as pets and, like mostof them, are transported under terrible conditions. Learn more about the calvary of slow lories visiting blognasua. Photo: Naturama

EXAMPLES OF WILD MAMMALS AS PETS

PRIMATES

Marmosets, slow loris, lar gibbons, chimpanzees, Barbary macaques… The list of primates that people have in captivity is almost infinite. One of the main mistakes people make when they want a primate as a pet is to believe that they have our same needs, especially in superior primates such as chimpanzees. Its expressions are also confused with ours: what the photo shows is not a smile of happiness and what the video shows is not tickling, but an attitude of defense (slow loris have poison in their elbows).

This chimpanzee is not smiling, he is scared. Photo: Photos.com

Many primates live in family groups and the offspring need to be with the mother the first years of life, so that just the simple fact of acquiring a little primate entails the death of all the adults of their family group and psychological problems for the animal. To know the extensive and serious problem of keeping primates in captivity, we strongly recommend reading this post.

SUGAR GLIDERS

Sugar gliders (Petaurus breviceps) resemble a squirrel, but in fact they are marsupials. They have a very specific diet (insects and their depositions, eucalyptus sap, nectar …), they live in the canopy of trees in groups from 6 to 10 individuals and move between the trees jumping up to 50 meters with a membrane that let them hover. They are nocturnal so they yell and call at night. It is evident that it is impossible to reproduce these conditions in captivity, so the majority of sugar gliders die due to nutritional deficiencies.

Sugar glider caged. Photo: FAADA

VIETNAMESE POT-BELLIED PIGS

Although they are a variety of a domestic animal, Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs (Sus scrofa domestica) are small when tey are young, but adults can weigh more than 100 kilos, so it is impossible to keep them in a flat. There have been so many abandonments and they have reproduced so much, that there are populations established in nature. They can reproduce with wild boars and it is unknown if the hybrids are fertile. There are no wildlife recovery centers or shelters for these pigs, so they continue to affect the native ecosystems.

Since actor George Clooney introduced a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig as a pet, the trend to own one quickly spread. Source

RACCOONS AND COATIS

Other mammals that, because of their pleasant appearance, some people try to have as pets. Raccoons (Procyon sp) develop aggressive behaviors when they do not having their needs covered, they are destructive to household objects and have a tendency to bite everything, including people. Currently in Spain and other countries it is illegal to acquire them and it is classified as an invasive species.

In addition to aggressiveness, one of the most common behaviors of raccoons is “theft”. Source

Coatis (Nasua sp) are related to raccoons and, like them, when they grow up they become aggressive if kept in captivity in a home. In Spain, their possession is also illegal.

coatí nasua
The coati, another friendly-looking mammal that can be dangerous. Source

MERKAATS

Merkaats (Suricata suricatta) are very social animals that live in colonies of up to 30 individuals underground in the South African savanna. They usually make holes in the ground to protect themselves and are very territorial. Therefore, having a meerkat at home or in a garden is totally unfeasible. In addition, the climatic conditions (high temperatures and low humidity) in which they are adapted are not the same as those of a private home.

As sugar gliders, their food is impossible to reproduce at home: snake meat, spiders, scorpions, insects, birds and small mammals… Like raccoons, they do not hesitate to bite and are very active animals.

Meerkat with a leash where you can see his fangs. Photo: FAADA

FENNEC FOX

This species of desert fox (Vulpes zerda) has also become trendy as a pet. Although its tenure is still legal, it has been proposed several times as an invasive species.

The main reason why you can not have a fennec at home are the desert climatic conditions to which it is adapted. Living in an apartment causes kidney problems and thermoregulation problems. Also, it is a nocturnal animal. Changes in their circadian rhythm cause them hormonal problems.

Fennec  fox in the desert. Photo: Cat Downie / Shutterstock

Like the previous two species, behavioral problems can turn up and become violent against the furniture or its owners.

ELEPHANTS, TIGERS …

Although it may seem incredible, there are people who have an elephant in the home garden and other people have felines, like tigers. At this point we do not think it is necessary to explain the reasons why these animals have not their needs met and the potential danger they pose to their owners and neighbors in case of escape.

Dumba, the elephant that lives in a home garden in Spain. Photo: FAADA

IN CONCLUSION

As we have seen, a wild animal in captivity will never have its needs covered to guarantee its welfare. Here we have presented the best known wild mammals that are kept as pets, but unfortunately the list does not stop expanding.

In order not to favor animal trafficking and cause unnecessary suffering during the life of the animal, avoid buying wild animals, inform yourself and inform the people around you, denounce irresponsible tenures and in case you already have one wild animal as a pet and you can no longer keep it, contact a recovery wildlife center and never abandon it into nature.

MIREIA QUEROL ALL YOU NEED IS BIOLOGY

 

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Are you thinking about a PhD? The experience of primatologist Mireia Olivé

If you are studying biology maybe you are thinking to continue working in a doctor’s degree. Is it worth it? How much time and effort will you have to dedicate? Know firsthand the experience of writing a thesis and getting a doctor’s degree with this interview with primatologist Mireia Olivé.

THE INTEREST IN PRIMATOLOGY

  • Mireia, thanks to dedicate your time to All You Need Is Biology to share your experience. Let’s start from the beginning: when did you know you wanted to study biology? Why did you choose this degree and not another?

The thing is that the choice was not easy because I have always liked a lot of things and it was difficult to decide. To choose the degree, one of the criteria I took into account was that the field should open doors for a future projects (in a professional way), enabling me to be more interdisciplinary. What finally did tip the scales was the emotional part: it was really motivating to know that, someday, I might know things that I always wondered (in the field of primates, especially).

  • Why did you do a PhD? Did you have a professional future in mind, the opportunity arose without thinking about it..?

It’s funny that I really undertook a doctoral thesis because I had never thought about it. While some friends of mine had no doubts about conducting research, I was involved in other projects that weren’t related to research and I didn’t have in mind taking a PhD. Actually, it was a proposal of my academic mentor from the  Master’s degree in Cognition and Evolution of Primates I had already done. After considering it (and knowing that I could continue working in my other projects), I accepted.

  • On what topic was your thesis? What research did you carry out?

My thesis studied the relationship between hierarchy and grooming in a group of Barbary macaques (Macaca sylvanus). To integrate these two concepts and see how interrelated, the research was focused on several aspects:

  • First; bibliographic, regarding the hierarchy and grooming.
  • Second; on computer models and simulation (I belong to GCAI –Group of Adaptive Behaviour and Interaction-, which studies adaptive behaviour and computational psychology).
  • Third; empirical, observing individuals in a group of macaques.
groomig, macacos de Berbería, macaco de barbería, macaco de Gibraltar, mona rabona
Barbary macaques during grooming. Photo: Mireia Olivé Obradors

WORKING IN THE FIELD

  • Let’s talk about the empirical aspects: in what area did you take out your observations?

The empirical part was a bit difficult to start because we struggled to find a group that was representative enough, since it had to have a minimum of individuals of each gender and age class, and from a particular family of primates. Finally, after several failed attempts (we had already begun observing a group but we had to stop because there were problems with the animals), we chose a group of a French park near Poitiers called La Vallée des Singes, where the Barbary macaques group met all the requirements we had set. In addition, it was a semi-captivity group, which provided many advantages over other options we had already considered.

Barbary macaques on trees at La Vallée des Singes in spring. Photo: Mireia Olivé Obradors
  • So you had to do some research abroad. How do you evaluate the experience?

It was a very interesting experience that allowed me to meet students, technicians and professionals of the “animalier” sector and in the primatology field, to expand the circle of friends and to improve my level of foreign languages

  • Working in the field was very hard?

The fieldwork was very intense, because I wanted to take advantage of my time collecting as much data as I could (even considering further research to develop at the end of the PhD). Going out to observe animals is a task that requires a lot of perseverance and dedication: once the dynamics is established, observations must be maintained in all conditions. This means it had to be done even if it rains; the temperature is below 4° C; on weekdays and on weekends, and at any time of day. The empirical part, however, was the best of the PhD.

El paisaje y las condiciones de observación durante el invierno eran totalmente diferentes. Foto: Mireia Olivé Obradors
The scenery and observing conditions during the winter were totally different. Photo: Mireia Olivé Obradors

 

  • Did you experienced fear at some time?

Usually the sessions were quiet, but twice went pretty scary. The place where the observations were made was directly on the territory of macaques, an extension of 3.3 hectares of forest where the animals were circulating freely. At peak times park staff checked that everything was in order, but I could be on the other side of the territory and I often did not see anyone all day. In the group there were several juvenile females, eager to play and challenging me.

Algunos integrantes del grupo de macacos objeto del estudio. Foto: Mireia Olivé Obradors
Some members of the group of macaques under study. Photo: Mireia Olivé Obradors

Once, I was surrounded by the group of the four youngest females. They approached me and stretched my clothes. I was a bit scared (it was an aggressive way to play). The situation was complex, because at that time I had already been more or less accepted by the group as an observer and I could be quite close to animal. I frightened them to let me go, not only I risked to lose that confidence, and consequently the ability to observe their behavior closely, but at the same time, the group would have attacked me to help the youngest without hesitating (adults are very strong and have very long fangs).

La observación en el hábitat de los animales tiene sus riesgos: hay que conocer perfectamente las pautas de actuación en caso de peligro. Foto: Mireia Olivé Obradors
The observation in the habitat of the animals has its risks: you have to be familiar with the guidelines for action in case of danger. Photo: Mireia Olivé Obradors

TIPS ON PhD

  • Dedication is very big, is it possible to combine the PhD with a job? Can you give an idea to future students how much is the workload?

The workload is heavy, either combining the PhD with a job (which was my case) or doing the thesis exclusively, and perseverance to move forward is necessary. For me it was important not to stop working and continue participating in other projects that were not related to research, so I assumed it would take longer to finish my PhD. Being focused was important to continue working on all fronts

Ejemplo de una sola página de la libreta de campo de Mireia. Después, todos estos datos hay que analizarlas en el momento de redacción de la tesis. Foto: Mireia Olivé Obradors
Example of one page of Mireia’s field notebook. After, all these data must be analyzed at the time of writing of the thesis. Photo: Mireia Olivé Obradors

In that time I got home from work between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., and then I began to work (either reading articles, studying, writing or doing calculations) until 9-10 p.m. and at weekends I spent between 4 and 6 hours a day. Friends, who worked doing exclusively the thesis at the University, spent about 8 hours every day, Monday through Friday, but this schedules also depended on the stage where they were (the final stage of drafting is far more intense).

  • But it also has its positive side, right?

Of course you have good times! First, you research a topic you are passionate about and you do some discoveries. In addition, you learn, firsthand, what it means to do research, what involves (organization, hypotheses, results).
You also know a lot of people who share the same interests and motivation, and you’re aware of everything happening in your field. You are so up to date and discovering so much about the subject that it ends up being you the one who knows the most: it’s your topic!

Mireia durante la observación del grupo de macacos. Foto: Mireia Olivé Obradors
Mireia during the observation of the macaques group. The empirical part of the study is the best. Photo: Mireia Olivé Obradors
  • Did you ever think about quitting? Why?

Yes. As I said before, it is a long and intense process. In addition, research often do not turn out the results you expect, and you have to go redirecting the situation, raising new hypotheses or approaching it from different points of view. At that moment you have to be able to look a little further: either to the beginning and see where you were and where you are at the time, or trying to see where you go, what you want to end up discovering.

So this is why it is important that you like what you investigate, because it is easy not to get involved and giving up.

  • What encouraged you to go on?

I want to add that beyond this personal motivation, support from family and friends is very important: they are who cheer you up, who encourage you again and again and will continue to encourage you, and when you have hard times, they convince you that your work worths it, and that you  must continue working to go on.

  • Would you repeat the experience?

Yes, I think I would do a PhD again. However, thanks to the experience, I would look at the issue differently, both the thesis content and the personal approach.

  • Finally, can you give some tips to people who want to do a PhD?

I would suggest them to change to another University (different from the one where they have studied the Bachelor’s or Master’s Degree) because it is very interesting to know other ways to work and focus research.

In addition, it is important to choose a topic that really motivates you. During the thesis there are moments of discouragement, when you want to throw it all away (it is inevitable, because it is a task of continuous effort and quite long) but if the subject excites you, it is easier to find energy to continue.

  • Your thesis seems very interesting,  can you give us a link to the publication?

One of the conclusions of my thesis has been the development of indicators that provide insight into the status of a group of Barbary macaques, which may facilitate possible interventions (reintroduction in the natural habitat, migration of individuals).

In this link you can read the summary of the thesis and download it.

Macacos de Berbería. Foto: Mireia Olivé Obradors
Barbary macaques. Photo: Mireia Olivé Obradors

 

Mireia, thank you very much for your time and experience, which will be for sure a good guidance for future researchers.

Thanks to you for giving me the opportunity to publicize the importance of scientific research.

MIREIA QUEROL ALL YOU NEED IS BIOLOGY