I See Myself

Oregon Primate Rescue founder Polly Schultz works with a cynomolgus monkey who demonstrates self awareness by recognizing her own mirror image.

Annie is a 4-year-old cynomolgus monkey who was born in a captive breeding facility. Her mother died while giving birth, so Annie was isolated from other monkeys and fed mechanically for the first five months of her life. During this time, she was rarely touched and received little, if any, nurturing. The breeding program may have focused on producing a smaller monkey breed known as the "Pocket Java," since Annie has a very small bone structure. This breed often encounters an array of health issues, which may be attributed to the inbreeding process used to reduce their natural size.

The breeder did not know how to deal with Annie's problems, so she was shipped to our rescue facility when she was 5 months old. She also exhibits multiple abnormal behaviors, including pulling and eating her own hair. Annie goes beyond "aggressive" and seems to hate all other monkeys to whom she has been exposed. Likewise, other monkeys despise her and would probably kill her due to her small size, combined with her inappropriate combative behaviors. Therefore, she is housed without a conspecific companion. A psychologist who observes Annie's behaviors said if Annie were a human child, she would diagnose her with high-functioning autism.

I spend much of my time working with Annie, and her extensive enrichment program involves a great deal of creativity. She frequently observes me applying makeup, combing my hair and doing other activities in front of the mirror. When I first introduced Annie to the mirror, tried to "kill" her image. I would briefly disapprove of her behavior using vocal and facial expressions, and then quickly make play faces and friendly vocalizations to her image in the mirror. When she stopped acting like a bully, I would then playfully interact with her along with her image.

A few months ago, I first noticed Annie looking in the mirror and examining her own teeth. She used her finger to pull her lip down to get a better look at them, with her face close to the mirror. Annie noticed a small piece of raisin stuck to her tooth and used the mirror to direct her fingers to remove it. She did not reach to the raisin image in the mirror; she reached to the raisin piece stuck to her tooth and removed it as she looked in the mirror.

We put a red dot on Annie's forehead recently while she was anesthetized for medical procedures, and then later took her to the mirror.

She moved her face very close to the mirror and looked at the dot for some time. Then she reached up to the dot on her forehead while still looking in the mirror and tried to groom it off. A few days ago, I quickly stuck a small white paper dot to the top of Annie's head while we were playing together, and she did not notice it. At the mirror once again, she saw the white dot and removed it. Later in the day, we were at the mirror again, and I observed her searching the top of her head using the mirror. She appeared to be looking for another dot!

I have made progress in changing Annie's mood from "rage and anger" to "playful and silly" under various circumstances by not responding with an aggressive or submissive reaction to her behaviors. I ignore her and engage only in a playful way with other creatures or objects, and I maintain that behavior until she joins me. Annie's negative behaviors are slowly changing, and my hope is that someday I will find the right match for her and be able to house her successfully with another monkey.

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