Synanthropic primates in Asia: Potential sentinels for environmental toxins Academic Article uri icon


  • Macaques are similar to humans both physiologically and behaviorally. In South and Southeast Asia they are also synanthropic, ecologically associated with humans. Synanthropy with humans raises the possibility that macaques come into contact with anthropogenic toxicants, such as lead and mercury, and might be appropriate sentinels for human exposures to certain toxic materials. We measured lead (Pb) and mercury (Hg) levels and characterized the stable isotopic compositions of delta(15)N and delta(13)C in hair from three groups of free-ranging macaques at the Swoyambhu temple in Kathmandhu, Nepal, an urban population that has abundant contact with humans. Hair lead levels were significantly higher among young macaques and differed among the three groups of macaques that were sampled. Hair Hg levels were low. No statistical association was found between stable isotopic compositions (delta(15)N and delta(13)C) and Pb and Hg levels. Our data did not find evidence that lead levels were associated with diet. We conclude that, in this population of macaques, behavioral and/or physiologic factors may play a significant role in determining exposure to lead. Chemical analysis of hair is a promising, noninvasive technique for determining exposure to toxic elements in free-ranging nonhuman primates.

author list (cited authors)

  • Engel, G., O'Hara, T. M., Cardona‐Marek, T., Heidrich, J., Chalise, M. K., Kyes, R., & Jones‐Engel, L.

citation count

  • 15

publication date

  • December 2009