Interactions Between Humans and Panamanian White-Faced Capuchin Monkeys (Cebus imitator)

Naomi L. Mansell, Tracie Mckinney

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Anthropogenic influence is expanding, threatening primate taxa worldwide. With wildlife tourism a burgeoning industry, understanding human–primate interactions is key in avoiding primate defaunation. We observed interactions between humans and a group of wild Panamanian white-faced capuchin monkeys (Cebus imitator) at Curú Wildlife Refuge, Costa Rica, in June and July, 2019, and compared our findings with findings for the same group in May–October of 2006 and 2007, when the group received more provisioning. We recorded all occurrences of human–primate interactions in 323 15-min samples over 42 consecutive days. We found that capuchins initiated approximately twice as many interactions as humans did (a significant difference). We also found a strong positive correlation between engaging behaviors exhibited by humans and capuchin agonistic behaviors. Capuchins spent significantly more time engaging in moderate behaviors (snatch food, snatch item, vigilance, vocalization) and less time not interacting with humans, in the presence of tourists and staff, than in the presence of staff only. Time spent in moderate and intense behaviors (approach, beg, chase, offer, take food, threat) was lower in 2019 than in 2006 and 2007. These findings suggest that reducing engaging behaviors by humans may reduce primate agonistic behaviors, and that human group composition affects human–primate interactions. The reduction in moderate and intense behaviors between studies also suggests that reducing direct provisioning could reduce the frequency and intensity of human–primate interactions in tourist sites.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)548-562
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal of Primatology
Issue number4
Early online date8 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2021


  • Ecotourism
  • ethnoprimatology
  • Human-animal interaction
  • Provisioning
  • Wildlife tourism


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