Provisioning of free-living primate groups usually leads to a significant increase in competition among individuals for the newly available resources. Do such individuals, however, exhibit altered behavioural strategies to alleviate social tension? Changing pat- terns of social interactions between adult females was studied in a wild group of bonnet macaques (Macaca radiata) in the Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary, Tamil Nadu, southern India, under two conditions of forag- ing. The group spent approximately 66% of the ob- servation time foraging on its natural diet; during the remaining period the group gathered provisioned food from tourists visiting the sanctuary. Provisioning was marked by a sharp increase in aggression and feeding supplants within the group. Dominant females directed contact aggression specifically towards higher-ranked subordinates, while subordinate fe- males increased non-contact aggression towards their dominant counterparts. Allogrooming was, however, much more reciprocated at the group level during provisioning. Subordinate females also initiated rela- tively more allogrooming towards those dominant in- dividuals who were most aggressive during this period. Social tensions thus increase markedly when bonnet macaques move from natural foraging to com- petting for provisioned food; individual macaques, however, can adopt appropriate social strategies un- der such rapidly changing ecological regimes.
Current Science 84 (6): 780-790