It’s a monkey! Up in that tree over there, in those bushes, on the ground! Stealing that tourist’s camera! For many backpackers travelling in South East Asia, the first encounter with a monkey, let alone any kind of primate is one of enchantment, enthrallment and sometimes entanglement. There is something about seeing our distant relatives that brings feelings of connection and excitement. Perhaps it is because we share a large proportion of our DNA with them.
Even though we tend to get overexcited when we observe primates in the wild or even in conservation areas, it’s also important to remember that these are wild animals. They are unpredictable and often they are anxious of our presence. Sometimes, they have been so habituated to our human presence that they develop aggressiveness. Here are some tips when observing primates which could also be applied to some other animals as well:
- When you observe them, DO NOT approach them.
This could be interpreted as a territorial advance which could lead to aggressive behaviour.
- Remain silent.
Primates don’t speak our language, nor do we speak theirs. So, don’t be that person trying to call to them or get their attention. Some animals are very sensitive to sound which could cause unnecessary stress. It could also lead to aggressiveness as well .
- Do NOT smile.
This one is a little less obvious to most people. However, a smile showcasing your teeth apart is actually translated into “I want to fight you, look how big my teeth are.” This is a show of territoriality and again can lead to aggressive behaviour. Alternatively, if you smile with your teeth held together is a sign of submission, so one has to be cautious to avoid a dominant primate 
- Do NOT feed them. EVER.
Animals are not humans. They don’t need to eat people food. Don’t give them people food. This is largely because their digestive system cannot process it, thus making them sick. Furthermore, it habituates them to humans and gives them the expectation that humans always carry food which increases aggressive behaviour .
- NEVER Touch or Pet them.
Ask yourself this any time you consider petting a wild animal. Does the animal look anxious or stressed? Is it trying to get away from me? Will it bite me if I touch it? Could it transfer any number of diseases to me if I touch it? Could it potentially kill me? Is it a wild animal? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, THEN YOU SHOULDN’T BE DOING THIS.
So, the next time you see any primates or wildlife, remember these 5 easy tips and your future experiences observing animals will be safe, fun and will not harm the animal or the environment!
 Maréchal, L., MacLarnon, A., Majolo, B., & Semple, S. (2016). Primates’ behavioural responses to tourists: evidence for a trade-off between potential risks and benefits. Scientific Reports, 6.
 Berman, C. M., Li, J., Ogawa, H., Ionica, C., & Yin, H. (2007). Primate tourism, range restriction, and infant risk among Macaca thibetana at Mt. Huangshan, China. International Journal of Primatology, 28(5), 1123-1141.
 Scientific American. (1991). It seems that in almost all other species, especially primates, baring one’s teeth is a threat or a show of potential force. How did the ‘smile’ become a friendly gesture in humans? Are there any cultures in which smiling is not considered friendly?. Scientific American, a division of Nature America, Inc. Retrieved from: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/it-seems-that-in-almost-a/