A University of Lincoln researcher on holiday in Morocco noticed that wildlife tourists were mistaking macaques' aggressive facial expressions for kissy faces and responding "by imitating the monkey's facial expression, which generally ended by either aggression by the monkey towards the tourists or the monkey leaving the interaction" -- which leads to monkey bites.
In a paper published in Peerj, Lincoln psych researchers document the tragic interspecies rift and propose teaching people about it so that the monkeys don't chew their faces off.
This level of misunderstanding could lead to increased risk of injury to humans and have a negative impact on the welfare on the animals, particularly in places where wild macaques interact with people, the study concluded.
The research, led by researchers from the University of Lincoln, UK, suggests videos or supervised visits led by expert guides would be better placed to educate tourists about how best to read emotions in animals in zoos and wildlife parks, along with advice on maintaining safe distance from the animals.
Dr Laëtitia Maréchal, from the School of Psychology at the University of Lincoln said: "There is a growing interest in wildlife tourism, and in particular primate tourism. People travel to encounter wild animals, many of them attempting to closely interact with monkeys, even though this is often prohibited.
Experience-based human perception of
facial expressions in Barbary macaques
(Macaca sylvanus) [Laëtitia Maréchal, Xandria Levy, Kerstin Meints and Bonaventura Majolo/Peerj]
Tourists risk animal bites by misreading wild monkey facial expressions as 'kisses'
[University of Lincoln/Science Daily]