Please Knock

inti says please knock





Reliably signalling a startling husbandry event improves welfare of zoo-housed capuchins (Sapajus apella)

Kristina Rimpley and Prof Hannah Buchanan-Smith of Stirling University examined the effect of giving the capuchins a reliable signal (a knock on the door) 3 seconds prior to a keeper entering the enclosure to perform a husbandry event. The study hypothesised two main things;

1. That unreliable signals that indicate husbandry events may have a negative impact on capuchin behaviour.

2. Making a husbandry event predictable will decrease anxiety related behaviours prior to the husbandry event.

To address these hypotheses the researchers studied 12 of the capuchins at Living Links, 6 from the West and 6 from the East. Behaviours that were used as indicators for anxiety levels were scratch, vigilance and jerky motion.behaviour categories for please knock






Baseline information was gathered on the monkeys’ behaviour 5 minutes before and after door events, with a door event being defined as the opening and/or closing of any door in the keeper area which could be heard by the capuchins.

knock before you enter diagram






As you will see in the figure above there are many doors in the keeper area and they may be opened or closed for a variety of reasons. Thus hearing a door could not predictably signal a keeper would enter a capuchin enclosure. In fact only 30% of door events resulted in a keeper entering a capuchin enclosure.

Therefore the researchers implemented the treatment of the door knock 3 seconds prior to a husbandry event to allow the capuchins a predictable indicator that a keeper was about to enter. The capuchins were given 2 weeks to get used to knocking as a signal then observed again to see if their anxiety levels had changed towards door events.

picture 2 for please knock







The results indicate that there was a decrease in anxiety related behaviours of the capuchins in the after door event in the treatment phase, thus supporting the notion that giving the animals a predictable indicator of events can benefit the overall welfare of the monkeys.

This is a great technique that can be implemented very easily for no cost and no additional time and can have a great benefit to all our monkeys’ well being.


Rimpley, K and Buchanan-Smith, H (2013). Reliably signalling a startling husbandry event improves welfare of zoo-housed capuchins (Sapajus apella). Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 147, 205-213.

Dr Jane Goodall, DBE receives honorary degree







Dr Jane Goodall and Hillary Clinton

Dr Jane Goodall DBE, who opened Living Links in 2008, was recently recognised by receiving an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science by the University of St Andrews as part of its 600th Anniversary Celebrations. Other Honorary Graduands included Hillary Clinton, former USA Secretary of State, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, Lord Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, and Professor Mary Beard, Classicist. The laureation for Dr Goodall was given by the Director of Living Links, Professor Andrew Whiten, and the ceremony was also attended by Professor Chris West, RZSS CEO.






Honorary Graduands and Laureators of the Graduation Ceremony of 13th September 2013 marking the Academic Celebrations of the University of St Andrews’ 600th Anniversary. Front row, 3rd and4th from left: Dr Jane Goodall DBE, Ethologist and Conservationist, and laureator Professor Andrew Whiten.


Science Summer School 2013 – New Mums depend on each other

summer school week 1 2013

From July 29th to August 9th RZSS Edinburgh Zoo runs a Science Summer School for teenagers aged 16-18 yrs. It is a week long introductory course into zoo and wildlife sciences.

Last week some of our students were observing our two new mothers in the West enclosure. Both Santi and Lana have recently had babies. The students were investigating who the group would spend more time with. Lana (the alpha female) and her baby or Santi and her baby (the newer baby). They found that the two mothers spent the most time together and the rest of the group and Diego the alpha male spent equal amounts of time with both the mothers.

Our students concluded that this result is very similar to human mothers who like spend time together bonding over the daily gripes of raising babies.

photo by kirsty banner





Photo by : Kirsty Cheyne

Monkey business – It’s not what you know, but who you know!

Social networks shape monkey “culture”

A new study, published in Current Biology, shows that squirrel monkeys who are at the heart of their social group pick up innovations first, and are more likely to acquire new cultural variations in behaviour like novel foraging techniques.

Dr Nicolas Claidière, Ms Emily Messer and Professor Andrew Whiten of the University of St Andrews in collaboration with Dr Will Hoppitt of Anglia Ruskin University studied both our East and West squirrel monkeys. They examined their social networks by recording who spent time with whom when the monkeys were in the vicinity of an “artificial fruit” that could be used to obtain food rewards by using two different techniques, lift or pivot (Figure 1).

lift and pivot photo

Sophisticated statistical analysis of this information revealed the details of the monkeys’ social networks which helped the researchers visualize which monkeys were at the heart of the network and which were more peripheral (Figure 2). Each monkey was rated on a measure of their ‘centrality’ within the group. social network red vs blue

Boa the alpha male in the East group was briefly separated and trained how to use the lift technique and his equivalent, Rio in the West group was trained to use the pivot technique, they were then reunited with their respective groups.

The scientists found that monkeys who were well-connected were the most likely to successfully pick up the new technique seeded in their group. They were also more likely to acquire the lift technique in the group seeded with ‘lift’, versus the pivot technique in the group seeded with ‘pivot’, so the alpha males were truly the hubs of these two different monkey ‘cultures’.

Professor Whiten, from the University of St Andrews, said: “Our study shows that innovations do not just spread randomly in primate groups, but as in humans, are shaped by the monkeys’ social networks”.

Dr Claidiere said: “Research interest in social learning and social network analysis has surged in recent years, and our results are likely to stimulate further research on the spread of innovations in animal social networks.

“We suspect that our focus on a social network relevant to the diffusion of foraging innovations can explain why we found an effect of the network centrality of individuals on their learning.

“Previous research has focused on other relationships, like who grooms whom, which may not correlate with the monkeys’ observational learning in the same way”.

Emily Messer, noted another aspect of the study. “We also found that maternal relationships explained parts of the social network, so some of the diffusion of the new foraging habits were also probably reflecting an emphasis on learning within families,” she said.

Click here to lead you to the abstract of the article in Current Biology





Living Links to Life Long Learning – U3A Study Day

On the 5th of June, University of the Third Age (U3A) members from across Scotland came to their third annual study day here in Edinburgh Zoo. The theme for this year was Primatology.

With so many amazing projects happening at Budongo Trail and Living Links we felt this was an ideal opportunity for our researchers to engage with life-long learners.

The conference was set in the Budongo Trail Lecture Theatre and included a keynote speech from Professor Andy Whiten, presentations from our current PhD students, and Dr Katie Slocombe gave the delegates a live demonstration of how we study chimpanzee communication.

chimp com bannerOur guests also had a chance to explore the two enclosures with many of our staff, eoin discusses researchvolunteers and researchers on hand to answer questions.

Click here to see the full programme of the day’s events.


Linking to the Curriculum

On Friday April 26th we had 23 science teachers from over 15 different Scottish Secondary schools come to the zoo to take part in a teacher training day.

The day’s events included training with two of our resource packs, Measuring Behaviour and Chimpanzee and Human Chromosomes. In the chromosome activity the teachers had a chance to compare the differences and similarities in the chromosomes of humans and chimpanzees, these resources are ideal for teaching students about genetic deletions, mutations and inversions.

c and h activity






In the Measuring Behaviour workshop they received an overview of how to study primate behaviour then went out into the zoo to study our primates themselves.

mb activity





We got some fantastic feedback from the day and the teachers are very excited to start using our resources in their classrooms. In the future we hope to offer another training day for our other two resource packs; Working with Scientific Literature and Primate Communication.

I’ll have what she’s having – Vervet Monkey Conformity Study

vervet-monkeys6 copy







University of St Andrews researchers Dr Erica van de Waal and Professor Andrew Whiten and Christèle Borgeaud of the University of Neuchâtel have just published in the journal Science about the ability of vervet monkeys to conform to local feeding traditions.

In Living Links and Budongo Trail here in Edinburgh Zoo we do multiple studies on culture and how our primates can learn from each other, however doing this in the wild can be far more challenging, a challenge that Erica, Andy and Christèle overcame with a beautifully precise and effective experiment.

Like many species, vervet monkey infants learn a lot about life from watching their mothers, especially in instances of food choice. In this study four groups of vervet monkeys (total of 109 monkeys) in the Mawana private game reserve in South Africa were introduced to two different colours of corn.

Two groups were trained to eat pink corn and two groups were trained to eat the blue. This training phase was accomplished by making the ‘unpreferred’ food colour choice taste bitter by using aloe extracts from local plants. Approximately 4-6 months after the initial training, the corn was reintroduced to the groups with neither of the coloured corn being treated, thus making both palatable options.

Interesting the monkeys remembered which was their preferred colour choice and infants that had not seen coloured corn before only ate the same colour corn as their mothers did. In fact some of the infants sat the box of the unpreferred coloured corn to eat the ‘right’ colour, says Andy Whiten.

Not only do infant vervet monkeys adopt the ‘right’ colour corn from watching their mothers, males that emigrate to new groups will conform to eat the same colour corn as their new community. For example Groot was part of a group that was trained to eat the blue corn, as all male vervets that reach sexual maturity do he left his group to find another to be part of. When he arrived he saw that they were eating the pink corn, after a brief amount of time watching them he then joined in to eat the pink corn too.

By changing his preconceived ideas on what is appropriate to eat Groot could benefit from the new groups’ local knowledge. Professor Whiten said “It may make sense in nature, where the knowledge of the locals is often the best guide to what are the optimal behaviours in their environment”, thus the “when-in-Rome” mentality makes sense.

There was one exception in the study, a male named Lekker emigrated and immediately became the dominant male of new troop and he did not adopt their feeding preferences. This then created more questions. Did he not take on their traditions because he was dominant and felt no need to adopt the social conformity, or was he just stubbornly set in his ways? Will his new group then conform to what he eats? Since this only happened in one case, more research is required to gain further insight into social status and conformity in vervet monkeys.


van de Waal, E., Borgeaud, C., and Whiten, A. (2013). Potent Social Learning and Conformity Shape a Wild Primate’s Foraging Decisions. Science 340, 483-485.


Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) honours Prof Andy Whiten

andy medal newsProfessor Andy Whiten the Director of Living Links has been awarded the Sir James Black Prize and Medal.

He has been bestowed this honour due to his outstanding work in primatology and his innovations within the field of social learning and the cultural transmission of behaviour.

Later on this year he will be giving a guest lecture for RSE entitled “Social Learning and the Cultural Transmission of Behaviour in Human and Non-human Animals: A ‘Second Inheritance System’ in Biology.”

As soon as we know the date and location for this lecture we will post it up here on the Living Links website.

Dung Days at the Zoo

dung day blog picture




As part of the Edinburgh International Science Festival we are running Dung Days at the zoo. There are many activities for our visitors to take part in to learn all about poo!

A few of the research projects here in Living Links have involved using coloured glitter to help us determine which monkey left which poo. This has been helpful in studies looking at hormone levels and in our research into colour vision.

During Dung Days our visitors can create their own capuchin glitters poos!



Chimp Challenge – Memory Test

chimp challenge




There is a new interactive in the Living Links Centre. Our guests can play a game to find out if they have a better memory than a chimpanzee. Tetsuro Matsuzawa from Kyoto University Primate Research Institute has demonstrated that chimpanzees have an extremely good working memory and are capable of completing a number organising task at greater speeds and accuracy than humans.

Justin Quillinan and Sean Roberts two PhD students from the University of Edinburgh want to find out if with practice can humans become just as good as chimpanzees at this activity?

You can play this it at home!

Warning this game is highly addictive

To find out more about Justin and Sean’s research you can follow their blog.