Researchers' ethical concerns regarding habituating wild‐nonhuman primates and perceived ethical duties to their subjects: Results of an online survey

Document Type


Department or Administrative Unit

Primate Behavior and Ecology

Publication Date



While the process of habituation is essential for researchers to observe primates in their natural habitats, ethical dilemmas may arise from its consequences. We collected data from 286 participants via an online survey to investigate: (a) how primatologists perceive their ethical duties toward their subjects; (b) the extent to which primatologists are concerned about the potential ethical consequences of habituation; and (c) the methods primatologists use to reduce potential harms caused by habituation. Overall, primatologists felt an extremely strong duty to mitigate harms that they may cause (e.g., to not stress individuals during observation, treat injuries, and reunite separated individuals) and expressed very high concern for habituation's potential to increase the vulnerability of their subjects to poaching and disease transfer. Ratings for those items were so high that they could not be included in subsequent exploratory factor analyses that were designed to reveal constructs underlying respondents’ ratings of their ethical duties and concerns. Factor analysis of ratings of ethical duties revealed that primatologists reported a strong duty to mitigate harms caused by other humans and a lower perceived duty to mitigate naturally occurring harmful events. Factor analysis on ethical concern ratings revealed that respondents were concerned about harms during the habituation process, the presence of unhabituated behavior after habituation had been established, and indirect harms of habituation. Concerns for unhabituated behavior and indirect harms were rated slightly higher than concern for harms during the habituation process. To mitigate potential harms, primatologists primarily reported engaging in strategies to reduce stress in their subjects. Our findings reveal a disconnect between primatologists' ratings of their ethical concerns and their reported mitigation practices that may, in part, stem from gaps in knowledge about the true impacts of habituation. We suggest areas of discussion and research in the field necessary to address those gaps.


This article was originally published in American Journal of Primatology. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

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American Journal of Primatology


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