Wild Barbary Macaques Seen Adopting A Foreign Injured Infant For The First Time

A juvenile from a neighboring group inspects Pipo’s injuries and grooms him, image taken on March 22, 2018. Liz Campbell/University of Oxford CC BY 4.0 

Nature isn't always a monkey-eat-monkey world of survival and nastiness. For the first time, a wild group of endangered Barbary macaques has been seen adopting an injured juvenile from a foreign group. 

Not only does this observation show some surprising emotional intelligence from these Old World monkeys, but it also provides some hope for the rehabilitation of macaques rescued from the illegal wildlife trade, one of the troubled species’ biggest threats. 

Reported in the journal Primates, Liz Campbell from Oxford University and the International Fund for Animal Welfare observed the behavior in Ifrane National Park in the Middle Atlas Mountains of Morocco, one of the species' last remaining natural habitats. 

She came across a 3-year-old juvenile, dubbed “Pipo”, that was seriously injured and separated from his group following a nasty road traffic accident. After spending two days alone in distress, he was approached by a neighboring Barbary macaque group who quickly began to groom and affiliate with him. Pipo spent the next four months with the group, eventually making a full recovery before returning to his own clan. 

“We thought fostering may only be an option for very young monkeys, but Pipo's case shows even older juveniles can be accepted by wild foster groups,” Campbell, from Oxford University's Department of Zoology, said in a statement. “This observation provides valuable information for rehabilitation and release strategies, which will help improve welfare of rescued macaques, strengthen wild populations, and free space in sanctuaries to allow continued confiscations to fight illegal trade.”

Found only in fragmented areas of Northern Africa and the Rock of Gibraltar, Barbary macaques live in large and highly social groups made up of numerous families. Adoptions are not uncommon in wild primates, however, they are usually only carried out by relatives or members of the extended group. This is especially true of Barbary macaques, which are famously social and known to take very good care of young, regardless of whether they're their direct offspring or not. 

Nevertheless, this level of intergroup caring for an injured, unfamiliar individual has never been documented before – and it bodes very well for their survival as a species.

Young Barbary macaques are frequently rescued from the illegal wildlife trade. The fact that juveniles can be successfully integrated into unfamiliar groups could be used to improve rehabilitation and release programs.

“Barbary macaques are very social, so to return them to the wild they must be with a group, not as lone individuals,” explained Campbell. “The conventional method for returning primates to the wild is rehabilitation and release of groups formed in captivity, but because of the attention and care that Barbary macaques, especially males, give to young, there is the possibility not only to release rehabilitated groups but also to release individual young into foster groups in the wild.”

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