Johnston, J. R., Meeker, T. L., Ramsey, J. K. et al. 2020. Utility of automated feeding data to detect social instability in a captive breeding colony of rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta): A case study of intrafamily aggression. JAALAS 59(1), 46–57.
Some captive breeding colonies of rhesus macaques live in large outdoor multimale, multifemale social groups. These groups are composed of several matrilineal families, governed by a clear female dominance hierarchy. Aggression within the same or between different matrilineal families due to social instability can result in trauma and mortality. Therefore, a primary management goal is to detect emerging social unrest before the onset of significant fighting and wounding. Accordingly, groups are monitored routinely for changes in dominance and alliance relations as well as for increases in trauma frequency and severity. Decreased food intake is a normal physiologic response to acute stress; therefore, inappetence in key animals or groups of monkeys might be used as an indicator of increased social stress and emerging instability. An incident of intrafamily aggression occurred recently in a breeding group at our facility and resulted in considerable fighting. Because this compound was equipped with an automated feeding system that tracks the caloric intake of individual animals, we retrospectively analyzed feeding data to determine whether significant reduction in caloric consumption occurred prior to the onset of aggression, compared with baseline values. Neither the entire group nor individual families showed any significant differences in total caloric intake between baseline and previous 24 h values; however, the affected family exhibited a 20% reduction in total caloric during the 24 h prior to the aggression. Most notably, the deposed subfamily showed a marked 58% reduction in caloric intake during the prior 24 h, whereas remaining subfamilies showed no significant changes in intake. High-ranking animals of the group, including the α female, β female, and α male, similarly exhibited marked decreases in caloric intake during that period. These findings indicate that automated feeders can assist management staff with monitoring social stability in breeding colonies of rhesus macaque.