Environmental and Social Factors Associated with the Occurrence of Stone-Handling Behavior in a Captive Troop of Macaca fuscata

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Abstract

Stone-handling, a documented behavioral tradition in Japanese macaques (Macaca fuscata), occurs in both captive and provisioned free-ranging troops. We utilize data systematically collected as part of a broader investigation of stone-handling behavior in a captive troop to elucidate the environmental and social factors responsible for its occurrence. We analyzed contexts of stone-handling over 18 mo to determine under what conditions individuals most often perform it. There is clear seasonal variation in the occurrence of stone-handling. The lowest number and shortest duration of stone-handling bouts were in winter, gradually increasing to a peak in summer, and again decreasing toward autumn. Monkeys stone-handled more on clear sunny days than on cloudy or rainy ones. They displayed the behavior less under stressful conditions caused by human intervention or by aggression among troop members. Such stressful social conditions appeared to decrease individual motivation for stone-handling. In other words, individuals most frequently performed stone-handling under more relaxed environmental and social conditions. The findings are consistent with the hypothesis that stone-handling is a form of solitary object play behavior in macaques.

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