In macaque society, friends are wealth and increase chances of a long happy life

08 May 2019

The intricate social hierarchies of macaques contain strong friendships, and now behavioural researchers believe these good friends lead to longer lives.

All 23 species of macaque live in intricate social structures and hierarchies arranged around dominant, matriarchal females.  

In order to do so, they form strong family bonds and many individuals maintain these bonds throughout their lives.

Living in a social group and working cooperatively involves knowing what another individual wants, being able to read body movements and understand each other through shared communication networks.

Developing such complex societies provides macaques with increased access to food through information sharing, and cooperative defence against non-group members.

However, the benefits of efficient predator detection and increased food acquisition can also be diluted by the costs of having to share food and reproductive opportunities.

Furthermore, individuals within macaque social groups are not equal. As dominant individuals monopolise a group’s resources more effectively, group living becomes less beneficial for subordinates.

Therefore, to maintain social harmony in a macaque population, even subordinate individuals must gain more from being social than from leaving the group and trying to survive and reproduce on their own.

One of the ultimate benefits that members of a macaque group gain from being social is that they are more likely to live longer.

A study of over 900 female rhesus macaques spanning a period of 21 years, has shown that each extra female relative within a social group, reduces a middle-aged female macaque's chances of dying in one year by 2.3% compared with peers with fewer relatives.

Macaques spend a lot of time interacting with one another. Being groomed helps rid them of parasites, while being aggressive helps establish their place in the social order.

For each individual, the goal is to receive lots of grooming and give a lot of aggression, while spending as little energy as possible grooming others and without becoming the target of another individual’s aggression.

Middle-aged females with lots of good social ties can achieve these conditions better than those with fewer social interactions, and thus enhance their survivability.

Similar results have also been demonstrated in male bottlenose dolphins, female rats, and female baboons.

But despite the extremely complex nature of macaque societies, many thousands of individuals are snatched from the their social groups in the wild  in order to perform in the entertainment industry.

In circuses, fear and punishment is used to force macaques to perform meaningless tricks. These individuals have been taken away from their mothers at a very young age and often spend extensive amounts of time chained and in social isolation.

As we’ve seen, macaques are highly social animals with complex behavioural, psychological, and physiological needs - keeping them as pets, chaining them, housing them in barren cages, and using them in circuses causes a huge amount of stress and suffering.

But you can help. Sign Animals Asia’s petition to ban wild animal performances in Vietnam so that animals such as macaques cannot be cruelly exploited just for the passing amusement of the crowd.