A new study by researchers has claimed that China's desire to promote eco-tourism is leading to the deaths of Tibetan monkeys in their infancy in the Mount Huangshan Scenic Area of the country's Anhui Province.
According to National Geographic, the skyrocketing infant mortality of Tibetan macaques is being precipitated by them being confined to a restricted range and regularly competing for corn thrown by excited spectators.
The study claims that this scenario has triggered adult aggression toward each other and toward their young, and as a result, less than half of the infants survive into adulthood.
"I think a lot more work needs to be done on how eco-tourism impacts the animals," said the study's co-author Carol Berman, an anthropologist at the State University of New York at Buffalo.
Results of the 19-year study will be published in the October edition of the International Journal of Primatology.
Berman's team studied the Tibetan macaques for six years before eco-tourism began in 1991.
They also collected data while tourists visited the animals between 1992 and 2004, including a span in 2003 when tourism was suspended.
Infant mortality was low prior to the advent of eco-tourism and was primarily caused by disease, the team found.
Although they didn't witness all the attacks, many of the infant corpses Berman's team found had bite wounds indicative of adult macaques.
The conflicts typically began with intense competition for food in the designated feeding areas.
As the animals became more aggressive, overall infant mortality rose from 14.8 percent to 54.6 percent.
Frans de Waal, a leading primatologist at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta, Georgia, agrees that eco-tourism can backfire if it's not carefully managed.
"I think we need to teach tourists that if they want to see primates, they will have to go where the primates are," he said.
Berman is of the view that many of these visitors are not aware of how they should behave in the vicinity of animals, including monkeys.