Did you know that humans and animals don’t always agree on the meaning of a smile?

Hi everyone, Nadine here dropping in with this week’s episode of the keeper blog! To be honest when I came to writing this one, I struggled to pick a topic to focus on, not because I couldn’t think of anything but because I had too many options to pick from this week, as it turns out October the 4th is a pretty big deal apparently. Not only is October 4th World Animal Day AND International Zookeeper Day, its also World Smile Day… Oh and I’ve heard it’s National Taco Day too but we’re going to have to overlook that one in this piece unfortunately as there’s only so many things I can cope with celebrating at one time (don’t worry though, the chimpanzees are going to help us celebrate Taco Day with some animal friendly tacos for their lunch!).

So what are all these celebration days in aid of?

First we have World Animal Day, first established in the early 20th century, its mission is to raise the status of animals in order to improve welfare standards around the globe and is therefore something very close to the hearts of those of us working in with animals.

Next is International Zookeeper Day (Yep, that’s right we have our own appreciation day now!), a more recent development with the first celebration taking place in 2015, but better late than never right? This day aims to promote recognition of the valuable contribution zookeepers make to the care and conservation of exotic animals.

And lastly World Smile Day, inspired by Harvey Ball (the original artist of the smiley face), He thought that we, all of us, should devote one day each year to smiles and kind acts throughout the world, and while this ones not directly related to zookeeping, I’d say a smiling, positivity and kindness are vital to succeeding in this field!

So for this blog I wanted to do something that would cover all three of these days seeing as they’re all so appropriate to what we do here at the park…. And what better way to do it than to share some fun snaps with you all of ZOOKEEPERS, SMILING, with some of the ANIMALS they love working with. All three things covered with one photograph, I was pretty proud of that one

So here’s a little selection of photos of the keepers here at the park spending some quality time with the animals they chose as the ones they most enjoy working with, I know you’re not really supposed to have favourites but we all can’t help feeling an extra special connection with certain individuals at the park.

Happy Keepers

Siobhan with Lucas the Chimpanzee, Adam with Mai the Red Panda, Dom with Barry the Pelican, Hannah with Ted the Aldabra Tortoise.

Meg with Honey the Coati, Dom with Barry the Pelican (Featured twice because Barry is just so photogenic), Matt with Nando and Kathleen the Lowland Tapirs, Meg with Daisy and Poppy the Raccoons

Meg with Honey the Coati, Dom with Barry the Pelican (Featured twice because Barry is just so photogenic), Matt with Nando and Kathleen the Brazilian Tapirs, Meg with Daisy and Poppy the Raccoons

In humans, the smile is recognised almost universally as a positive gesture, one signalling happiness, friendliness, delight or one of many other optimistic adjectives. This makes it easy for us to automatically apply this assumption to all being’s who’s facial expressions resemble the typical “smile appearance” – all well and good but this can be problematic when we are wrong.

What you may not know is, that when it comes to primates, this assumption couldn’t be further from the truth! If a nonhuman primate displays a tooth-bearing facial expression, similar to what we has humans would describe as a large grin, it is not because the animal is happy, on the contrary it is a display of fear, submission or even anticipation of an aggressive confrontation. In fact, the difference from humans is stark in that “Smiling” between two primates is much less an expression of friendship and much more an expression of fright.

Unfortunately this level of misunderstanding on our part can cause significant problems when put into action. Wildlife tourism is growing, particularly primate tourism, with holiday makers actively seeking out opportunities to encounter animals, including monkeys in the wild. However by misinterpreting their communication systems we increase both our own risk of getting injured or bitten, and the risk of negatively impacting the welfare of these animals.

So if you are planning a wildlife holiday at any point in the near future, or even just enjoy visiting our primates here at the park I hope that you’ve learnt something new and helpful on World Smile Day this year, in that some facial expressions can differ greatly in meaning between human and nonhuman primates so it’s important to do your research before you make your mind up what they mean.

Please join us soon at our daily vervet, capuchin and squirrel monkey talk at 11.30 or chimpanzee talk at 12.00 to learn more about some of our wonderful primates!

About Nadine - Head of Primates

Nadine has been with the park since 2013 and works on the primate section. Whilst not the biggest section, the primates are often the challenging species to keep occupied and as such (like all of the primate keepers), Nadine has developed a keen eye for enrichment.