The effects of observer presence on the behavior of Cebus capucinus in Costa Rica

Am J Primatol. 2008 May;70(5):490-4. doi: 10.1002/ajp.20512. Epub 2007 Dec 12.


We report on the responses of Cebus capucinus in the Santa Rosa Sector of the Area de Conservación Guanacaste, Costa Rica, to the presence of observers over a 4-week period. Study groups were habituated to different degrees: (1) Cerco de Piedra (CP): continuous observations began in 1984; (2) Exclosure (EX): focus of an 18-month study on males from 1998 to 1999; and (3) NBH: never studied/followed but the group frequently encounters researchers. We collected three types of data: group scans (group state was coded as calm or agitated at observer presence), focal animal data (observer-directed behaviors were recorded), and fecal cortisol levels. The two less-habituated groups (NBH and EX) differed significantly from the habituated group (CP) in their behavioral and cortisol responses, and they showed an increase in habituation over the study period (agitation and cortisol levels both dropped). Individuals in NBH also decreased their responses to observers during focal follows; however, at the end of the study the responses of the two less-habituated groups (NBH and EX) remained elevated in comparison to the habituated group (CP), suggesting the need for further habituation. Unlike capuchin groups that rarely encounter humans, NBH and EX never fled from observers and they rarely emitted observer-directed alarm calls. We suggest that the permanence of habituation and the ability to habituate animals passively through a neutral human presence are both important considerations for researchers conducting studies in areas where animal safety from poachers, etc. cannot be guaranteed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Cebus / physiology
  • Cebus / psychology*
  • Costa Rica
  • Feces / chemistry
  • Female
  • Habituation, Psychophysiologic / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / analysis
  • Male
  • Social Behavior*


  • Hydrocortisone