Widener Student Studies Snow MonkeysApril 1, 2013
When Rachel Yenko-Martinka began her internship at Minnesota Zoo Foundation, she soon discovered that her job of analyzing and engaging with snow monkeys consisted of more than monkeying around with macaques.
“It started off as an internship, but it ended up as my favorite way to spend my days,” said Yenko-Martinka, a junior biology/pre-veterinary major from the Bronx.
Yenko-Martinka shared her experience studying behavioral patterns of Japanese snow macaques — also known as snow monkeys — with an attentive audience gathered for her presentation “Monkey Business” during Honors Week in March.
She said she examined ordinary activities such as grooming, playing, and resting of 20 macaques over 12 weeks. The purpose of the behavioral study was to determine if familial relations and grooming affect dominance. She also focused on the monkeys’ patterns of aggression and demonstrations of social hierarchy.
Yenko-Martinka said that most macaques were born at the zoo, but four wild macaques were imported from Japan. These new members disrupted the way of life for the other monkeys, so they reacted in a combative manner. The newly transported macaques became the lowest in the hierarchy.
“Watching the macaques interact was like watching humans half the time,” Yenko-Martinka said. “They feel jealousy, anger, friendship, and responsibility just like the rest of us.”
She noticed that the Japanese Snow Macaques were a matriarchal group, and explained that hierarchy is due to lineage. Older monkeys respected the newborn macaque because it was part of the alpha line.
Yenko-Martinka revealed her findings that showed a direct correlation between familial relations and dominance. She found that grooming didn’t correlate with dominance, which negated the expected result.
“Working with the macaques made me more aware that human behavior has its roots in primate ancestry,” said Yenko-Martinka. “I began to look at the movement and traits of people at the zoo and could see how they’re almost primitive. However, this isn’t a bad thing. It’s another piece to understanding the big picture.”
The conclusion of Yenko-Martinka’s presentation featured a poem she wrote that poked fun at humans’ misguided perceptions of monkeys and conveyed that people aren’t superior.
A poem by Rachel Yenko-Martinka
Monkeys smell, but so do you!
And you’re the cleaner of the two.
You think they’re fat? Well look around…
The most they’d weigh is 40 pounds.
No, she’s not pregnant, actually that one’s a boy…
And everything strange is considered a toy.
Yes, it is funny that their butts are so red
No, I promise, that monkey’s not dead.
I don’t know why they scratch as they do,
And they’re eating biscuits, not their own poo.
They’re not baboons, no, they are not apes.
It’s time for you to study up on your primates!
Oh look, they’re sleeping and eating and playing!
But it’s really not all that fascinating.
They squeak and squeal and whistle and cry,
Not ooh and ahh as you so hard try.
And calling them ‘monkey’ will not get their attention
Like my calling you ‘human’ doesn’t warrant reaction.
If you climb up on the railing simply for the view
And then you fall in, well, that sucks for you…
Consider it gone if it’s dropped in the pit
And you better start running if I dare see you spit!
No, I don’t work here, I just wear the shirt…
And why on Earth do you call it cute if they get hurt?
Thirty hours a week, monkey data per page,
(But the ones most annoying are not found in a cage…)
Yet despite all the things that our visitors say,
These monkeys are still the best part of my day.
So I’ll speak to who asks, giving knowledge they lack
For the sake of our dear Japanese Snow Macaques.