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Amusing, surprising, astonishing: Japanese monkeys during this winter

Publication date: 30/11/16

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Between vulgarisation and scientific research, the project “Saru* - monkeys from Japan“ mixes animal photography, drawings and primatology against the background of the four seasons in Japan. Two protagonists, the behavioural scientist Cédric Sueur (Institut pluridisciplinaire Hubert-Curien) and the photographer Alexandre Bonnefoy, tell us more about it.
The photographs of macaques in steaming Onsen (hot water sources in Japan), bathing and delousing each other, went around the world. “I have often met monkeys while I was preparing my first two books about cherry blossoms and straying cats”, explains Alexandre Bonnefoy who has spent two years there. “I could have been satisfied by taking pretty pictures.” However, in order to go farther than the postcard motive, he contacted Cédric Sueur, behavioural scientist at University of Strasbourg, and Marie Pelé, primatologist and director of Ethobiosciences. Photography, drawings and conferences When coming back to France in October 2012, Alexandre Bonnefoy and his partner Delphine Vaufrey decided to settle down in Strasbourg where she studies illustration and decorative arts. “Marie Pelé, an independent behaviour scientist, and me followed their blog”, relates Cédric Sueur. Meeting is easy and the project “Saru - monkeys from Japan“ starts. “We soon had the idea to mix photography, drawings and conferences to benefit from our respective specialisations”, complete Alexandre and Cédric. Alexandre Bonnefoy travels to Japan three times, a 90 days total, and combs through the archipelago from north to south and with 15 kg photography equipment on his back. “Plane, train, night bus and hired cars…” The means of transport are optimised, “in order not to lose time and to protect our precious budget.” New behaviour From the Jigokudani Onsen through the woods of Shodoshima und Yakushima to the snow-covered roads of Wakinosawa, Alexandre Bonnefoy is accompanied by Cédric Sueur and Marie Pelé during this last trip. The remaining time, he sends them photographs and videos via the web. “We gave him a list of behaviours we wanted to have observed and a brief training of how to behave towards hostile macaques.” “It is quite useful to know that in presence of a biting dominant male, you ought not to make direct eye contact nor turn away while chewing a leaf!”, the photographer admits. “In return, I taught Cédric and Marie how to combine behaviour observation and aesthetics in a video.” The result of this rare cooperation between artists and researchers: beautiful photographs documenting the monkeys’ group behaviour, nice to look at and instructive to researchers at once. “The filmed behaviour of a monkey low in rank trying to mate with deer had never been observed before!” After the success of the exhibition in the Maison de la culture japonaise in Paris, it is now to see in Strasbourg.     *“Saru“ means „monkey“ in Japanese


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