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The Development of Social Structure in Free-Ranging Rhesus Monkeys

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The development of a social structure within a new colony of free-ranging rhesus monkeys was studied during their first 44 months on two adjacent islands, La Cueva and Guayacan, off the arid southwestern coast of Puerto Rico near La Parguera. Two of the nine social bands that formed in the colony disintegrated, two were removed to be held in enclosures, and five remained free-ranging. The observations on the development of social bands indicated that: (1) females experienced less difficulty in forming stable social units than males, (2) bands typically developed from a basic group of adult females dominated by an adult male, (3) the basic group of adult females was the most stable portion of the band and determined the rank of the band relative to other bands, (4) the presence of a dominant adult male was essential for the survival of the band as a social unit and, (5) males that did not join bands either remained semi-solitary or formed all-male groups. Stabilization of the social structure within and between bands was a gradual process. Inter-band shifts did not decline in frequency until two years after the colony's founding and many males did not join heterosexual bands until two and one-half years after the colony was founded. Attempts to form bands by artificially holding monkeys together for a period of time before releasing them were of limited success. Of four such attempts, only portions of two released groups remained together to form free-ranging social bands. Comparison between these results and those on a more mature population of free-ranging monkeys at Cayo Santiago indicates that the absence of kinship ties in the new colony may have been the cause of the instability observed.

Affiliations: 1: Laboratory of Perinatal Physiology, San Juan, Puerto Rico


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