Living Links Newsletter – March 2024

Welcome to the March edition of the Living Links newsletter – your source of all things monkey and more!

What’s new at Living Links?


Living Links researchers Dr Emma McEwen and Andreea Miscov, who have been running the previously mentioned VR experiment, are now replicating this experiment in a more traditional physical cup task. Instead of virtual fruit hiding in virtual hedges, there are real treats hiding under cups on a table in front of the capuchins. They will directly compare the monkey’s performance in the VR versus the physical task to see if the VR version is representative. Carlos, one of our East capuchins who is known as a great research participant, has been doing especially well at this exciting new task!

A typical cup game set up

Carlos relaxing outside


Dr Emma McEwen has also had a paper published on research that was completed at the Budongo Research Unit, our chimpanzee research centre at Edinburgh Zoo- congratulations Emma!

The study asks to what extent do humans and apes share the cognitive mechanisms that support optimal coordination and collaboration? They created a tool handover experiment to assess whether joint action planning in chimpanzees reflects similar patterns to humans.

Chimpanzees’ chosen handover locations shifted towards the location of the experimenter’s free or unobstructed hand, even though their individual half of the task was unobstructed. These findings indicate that chimpanzees and humans may share common cognitive mechanisms or predispositions that support joint action!

If you would like to read the full article, it can be found here.

Velu caring for his little sister


Velu taking part in research


Visitor Experience

Have you ever wanted to get involved with the research at Living Links? We believe that anyone can be a scientist, and in the coming months we will be inviting you to join in on some observational research!

After some training to help you tell the monkey species apart, we will ask you to count the number of each species you can see in designated zones around their enclosures.

This data will help contribute to a longitudinal study on our mixed species enclosure. Where does each species spend most of their time? Do the squirrel monkeys and capuchins hang out together? Can areas of the enclosure be improved to better suit the monkeys?  We can use this information to better inform the care of the monkeys long-term. Keep an eye out for future updates!

Our researchers ready to help.

This could be you one day!

Monkey Business

The gelada enclosure at the zoo is undergoing an exciting refurbishment! New visitor windows are being installed for a better view of the large gelada paddock, and the zoo are creating wonderful new rock shelters, climbing stumps for the playful geladas to leap between, and installing large tree trunks for them to climb up high. The geladas are going to love this, and we can’t wait for them to explore the larger and more fun enclosure. The ground will remain muddy for a while until the grass can recover, but the geladas will also really enjoy digging through this for worms! Watch this space and hopefully you can see the geladas up close soon!


Monkey of the Month

Our monkey of the month for March is Pixie! And the reason? For learning to turn!

It might sound simple, but learning to turn in the virtual environment touchscreen task can be challenging for the monkeys and is an important part of their training. Pixie, the youngest capuchin in the West group, had been lagging behind the others in her training, not quite understanding how to turn.

She has gotten quite confident in using the VR space to collect the fruit that she sees directly in front of her, but this month, to the delight of our researchers, she has discovered that there might be even more hiding if she moves left and right instead of straight ahead!

Did you know…

Humans, apes, African and Asian monkeys all have trichromatic or normal colour vision, meaning we can all perceive red, green, and blue light.

South American monkeys are however mostly dichromats. For capuchin monkeys, most females have trichromatic vision like us, whereas males’ vision is entirely dichromatic, being unable to see either red or green light. The only way you can tell which type of colour blindness they have is by genetic testing. What we did instead to make sure our research is accessible to all our monkeys was to simulate both red and green colour blindness and choose a fruit in a colour that could be perceived by both types. The main aim was for the monkeys to be able to see the fruit against the background of the grass and hedges for our VR trials, rather than to just be able to see colourful things.

Our simulation was created using human colour blindness parameters, so it is only an approximation and not an exact rendering of capuchin colour vision.

A & D show normal (trichromatic) vision, B & E shows how it is perceived by people who are unable to perceive Red. C&F show how it appears to those who cannot perceive green.

Question of the Month

Q: Do all the monkeys participate in research?

A: Participating in research is completely voluntary. The monkeys can choose whether or not they want to join in, and they are under no obligation to. Some of our monkeys really enjoy the research (and the rewards!) and choose to participate most days! Others, such as the low ranking Mekoe, are a little more nervous and choose their opportunities carefully. The youngest monkeys, like Jaci, Coquito and Calabaza, build up confidence as they get used to the cubicle area. Jaci has just participated for the first time recently!

Researcher of the Month

Our Researcher of the month is Alanna Cuvelier! Alanna completed her undergraduate degree in Psychology at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and is currently studying for her MSc in Psychology of Individual Differences at Edinburgh University. Her research is focused on evolutionary and comparative psychology, in terms of both personality traits and intelligence.

While at Living Links, she will be conducting an observational study examining whether personality traits influence play partner choice in  brown capuchins. Previous research suggests that capuchins prefer to play with individuals that are similar to them, be it in age, sex or rank. Does personality also play a role? She predicts that similar personalities will attract each other to carry out play behaviors. Alanna will get the expert opinions of the keepers to assess 54 (!) different personality traits in the monkeys including:

Curious: subject has a desire to see or know about  objects, devices, or other individuals.  This includes a desire to know about  the affairs of other individuals  that  do not directly concern the subject.

Lazy: the monkey is relatively inactive, indolent, or slow moving and avoids energetic activities.

Playful: the monkey is eager to engage in lively, vigorous, sportive, or acrobatic behaviors with or without other individuals.


A curious bunch!

Playtime at Living Links

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