In September Dr. Laëtitia Maréchal and Dr. Kevin Butler attended the ‘Science is Wonderful’ event in Brussels, funded by Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions and the European Commission.
The event was designed to engage members of the public, particularly children, in science. Over the course of the two day event, Laëtitia and Kevin were able to speak to approximately four hundred children and adults (with 24 different nationalities!) about their research including Sylvie Guillaume, Vice President of the European Parliament. Attendees at the event were able to hear about Laëtitia’s recently published multidisciplinary research in PeerJ (https://peerj.com/articles/3413/) which relates to potential avoidable problems in the wildlife tourism industry.
Wildlife tourism is a growing industry with more and more people traveling abroad and encountering wild animals of which they have no prior experience. The research suggests that people are very bad at working out how animals are feeling from their facial expressions alone. The research focused on Barbary macaques, an old world monkey species, found in Morocco, Algeria and Gibraltar. For example, when a Barbary macaque is distressed it bares its teeth in an expression that, to humans, appears very much like a cheesy grin. This leads the majority of people to assume that the monkey is happy.
During the event Laëtitia and Kevin gave visitors a short monkey facial expression quiz and were able to explain that the misidentification of expressions can lead to poor outcomes for tourists (e.g. bites) and for the monkeys (e.g. increased stress and anxiety, or fleeing in to the path of vehicles). The research was well received by all attendees and Laëtitia is looking forward to the next stage of her research which will be a collaboration with Kevin and Dr. Kay Ritchie and aims to investigate individual differences in decisions to approach wild animals. Although it is recommended to not get too close when visiting wild animals, visitors routinely approach in a bid to feed or take that perfect selfie with them.
Finding out what factors are important for making such decisions will enable more targeted and personalised education-based interventions that will improve the wildlife tourism experience for both animals and humans. If you would like to take the monkey face quiz so you can become a responsible tourist and see how well you can identify monkey facial expressions please go to the following link: https://unioflincoln.eu.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_0TZ2zltN6uvzZqZ.