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Impacts of tourism on anxiety and physiological stress levels in wild male Barbary macaques

1 September 2011 Science News

Maréchal L., Semple S., Majolo, B., Qarro, M., and MacLarnon A. (2011) Impacts of tourism on anxiety and physiological stress in wild Barbary macaques in Morocco. Biological Conservation, 144, 2188–2193.

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Wildlife tourism is a burgeoning global industry with the potential to make a significant contribution to the conservation of endangered species. However, a number of studies have provided evidence that tourists’ presence and behaviour may impact negatively on the animals involved, with potentially harmful consequences for their health, reproduction and population viability. Here, we investigate impacts of tourism on wild male Barbary macaques (Macaca sylvanus) in Morocco, quantifying a behavioural index of animals’ anxiety (self-scratching) and a measure of their physiological stress levels (faecal glucocorticoid concentrations – FGCs). Four measures of tourist presence, number or proximity were explored: maximum number, percentage of time present, mean number while present, and closest proximity to the macaques. In addition, rates of three types of interactions between tourists and macaques – neutral (e.g. photographing), feeding and aggressive – were quantified. Males’ rates of self-scratching were positively related to the mean number of tourists present and to rates of all three human-macaque interactions, but were unrelated to the other three measures of tourist pressure. FGCs were positively related to rates of aggressive interactions between humans and macaques, but unrelated to any of the other six measures of tourist pressure. These findings suggest that while tourist presence and interactions (even apparently innocuous ones) with the macaques elevate the study animals’ anxiety levels, only aggressive interactions are sufficient to elicit a detectable increase in our measure of physiological stress. These results can be used to inform management of tourism both at this site, and at other locations where tourists view and can interact with wild primates.

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