by Robert Sanders
A colony of Indian langur monkeys that has been observed and studied by Berkeley anthropologists and students for 25 years will retire to a primate sanctuary in Texas before the end of the year, campus administrators said.
One of few on-campus primate colonies in the world, it has been studied by many students of social behavior to hone their observational skills before heading into the field. Various honors and master's theses and a PhD or two came from study of the colony, plus numerous insights into primate behavior.
In recent years, though, federal research funding to support the colony has dried up, and the colony's upkeep has been a steady drain on campus resources.
As a result, the campus began looking for alternatives, including placing the 14 monkeys in domestic or foreign zoos, wildlife parks or animal sanctuaries.
Because all members of the colony were born in captivity, returning them to the wild was not an option.
The only site that met all the campus's criteria-including that they be kept alive until they die of natural causes-was Primarily Primates, Inc., a well-known and respected animal sanctuary located in Leon Springs, Texas, just outside San Antonio.
Primarily Primates, a non-profit organization, has been in operation since 1978, and currently maintains a menagerie of more than 600 primates and 150 birds and other animals.
"This is the best thing that could happen to the colony," said Phyllis Dolhinow, professor of anthropology and the colony's savior and patron for the past 25 years.
"Like their name says, they're 'primarily primates,' and they are set up for long-term care.
"They're stable, they have good habitat, excellent veterinary care, a good staff and the director is outstanding.
"The care is better than we can provide here, and the university should be commended for doing so well by the colony of monkeys."
The choice between Primarily Primates and Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation, Inc., also located near San Antonio in Boerne, Texas, was not an easy one, said Roy Henrickson, a veterinarian and the former head of animal care facilities.
Henrickson, a primate expert, was asked to help assess the Texas sanctuaries. "Both sanctuaries were very good, but what tipped it for me was that Primarily Primates is a refuge specializing in primates, and that they are very interested in vegetation that will provide useful browse and entertainment for the monkeys," he said.
The monkeys, members of a species called the Hanuman langur (Prebytis entellus), are considered sacred in India and named after the Hindu monkey god.
Unique in having a digestive system that can deal with mature leaves, the founders of the colony were brought to UC Davis in the 1960s for research on digestive physiology.
Once those studies were complete, however, the monkeys became surplus, and Dolhinow rescued more than a dozen in 1972 to continue her studies of primate social behavior at Berkeley.
"We were fortunate to have had them here for a long time and to have been able to observe the monkeys over a lifetime, to see how each experience fits into the adult's life," she said.
"We've been able to study the developmental processes that go into producing a successful adult."
From the beginning, student research was a major focus, she said. "Studying the langurs was a wonderful way to teach students an appreciation of research and conservation."
Over the years, the langurs also became a magnet for animal rights activists, who demanded that the monkeys be given up to a sanctuary. Primarily Primates was one of the original sites backed by the activists.
Primarily Primates is well known in the wildlife conservation community for rescuing research animals and castoffs from zoos and people's homes.
It pioneered methods of resocializing animals that had been kept in isolation for years. These methods are currently used around the world, says founder and director Wallace Swett.
Although the sanctuary currently houses no other Hanuman langurs, it is uniquely qualified to care for them, Swett said.
"Langurs require special care-if they don't get leafy material regularly their gut bacteria will die, and if the bacteria die the monkeys die," Swett said.
"We know a lot about botany and can feed them properly."
Berkeley has already sent Primarily Primates $38,000 in campus non-state funds to build two cages, one for a family group of eight langurs (two males, four breeding females and two youngsters) and the other for a bachelor colony of six males. These are the groupings maintained at Berkeley, and are typical of langur groupings in the wild, where males eventually leave the family group and join an all-male group in which they spend a large part of their lives.
Though another one-time payment of $20,000 has been promised for initial upkeep, the sanctuary plans to support the monkeys from its own funds, maintained through constant fundraising.
"For people who have expressed their concern for the monkeys, Primarily Primates is now where they should send their money," said Helen Diggs, director of the campus's Office of Laboratory Animal Care.
Diggs, a veterinarian, and her staff are now developing a plan for transporting the monkeys to Texas.
The plan will be reviewed by the campus's Animal Care and Use Committee-a committee comprised of two members of the general public as well as faculty and specialists in animal care-before implementation.
Diggs emphasized that the university will continue to keep tabs on the langurs.
"Primarily Primates was our best choice, and we will work with them to make sure they continue to be the best choice," Diggs said.