Monkeys versus apes
Monkeys are primates. They include macaques, baboons, guenons, capuchins, marmosets and tamarins. They differ from apes in many ways. Firstly, they are genetically different from apes and form their own group. One way to tell monkeys apart from apes is the presence of a tail. Apes do not have tails, whereas all monkey species do, although some are very small.
New World and Old World
Monkey species can be grouped in to New World or Old World monkeys. Old World monkeys live in Europe, Africa, and Asia. Whereas, New World monkeys are indigenous to the Americas.
New World monkeys are nearly exclusively arboreal, living up in the trees. They have prehensile tails which can grasp or hold on to objects or branches. Their tails are essential in helping them to move through the trees, providing support and balance.
Old World monkeys also have tails, but they cannot grasp objects. They spend more time on the ground.
The great apes are known to be adept at using tools, from sticks for catching termites, to leaves as umbrellas, these highly intelligent animals are capable of using things around them to make their lives easier.
It is not just apes that can use tools however. Many monkey species have evolved unique and ingenious ways of using tools to access new foods, helping them to thrive in their environment.
Capuchin monkeys find all sorts of uses for stones
Capuchin monkeys use stones for all sorts of things. They use stones to crack nuts, and to process seeds and fruits. They also make music’ by banging stones together. And stones even fill a part of their mating rituals. Female capuchins have been observed to throw stones at potential mates as part of their sexual displays!
Capuchin monkeys have refined their skills for 3000 years!
Researchers exploring the use of stones by these clever monkeys believe that they have been using stones in this way for 3000 years. Not only that, they have also been refining their skills and adapting to their environments.
The monkeys are changing the sorts of stone tools they are using depending on what they are eating. For example, soft, low resistance foods like seeds require different tools to harder, high resistant foods like cashews.
The vegetation in their environment has likely to have changed over the past 3000 years, and so the capuchins have adapted their tool use accordingly. Evidence of this has been found in fossils, showing how intelligent and adaptive these animals are.
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Long-tailed macaques use stones to crack nuts and oysters
Long-tailed macaques from Thailand have also been observed using stones to get to food. The monkeys were seen using large stones, some weighing up to 4.5 pounds to hammer away at nut shells in order to get to the nut inside.
Not just nuts, the monkeys also used sharp stones to open up oysters, enabling them to access a previously unavailable food.
This means that these macaques can join chimpanzees, capuchins and a few other species in being ranked as highly intelligent problem solvers.
This behaviour is not in the genetic makeup of macaques, and so using tools is a recent change in behaviour, showing that they have adapted to their environment. One of the nuts, the palm nut, is a new feature of the macaque’s environment, introduced by humans through an abandoned plantation on the island. This is where the researchers first witnessed these monkeys using tools.
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Monkeys really are amazing animals!
There are around 260 different species of monkeys in the world today. Many of these species are thriving, but sadly, many are threatened with extinction.
The main threats to monkeys include habitat loss and degradation. As the habitat of monkeys is encroached upon by humans, monkeys have less access to food, and increasingly come into conflict with humans.
Monkeys losing habitat will inevitably encroach upon farmland to find food, and this often results in hunting and poaching, as humans wish to deter them from attacking their crops.
Monkeys are also often captured in the wild and smuggled into the pet trade. Many of the animals taken in the wild die in the process, and if they survive they are confined to a life of misery and suffering.
Monkeys in the wildlife trade
Sadly, it is still legal for many monkey species to be kept as pets around the world, despite them requiring extremely specialised care. Monkeys are wild animals, they have evolved to live in the wild in complex social groups, travelling over great distances to find food.
Their complex needs cannot be met when they are kept as pets, and they inevitably suffer greatly. Many pet owners keep them in small cages, limiting their ability to move freely. And often they are kept alone, causing great loneliness and distress.
Monkeys are highly intelligent animals. They are wild and undomesticated. They cannot be house-trained or fully tamed. They are simply not suitable as pets.
Many species of monkeys can live for 20-40 years, making them a big commitment for their owners. When they grow up into adults, many monkeys will become aggressive in response to unsuitable living conditions. Monkeys have been known to bite and attack their owners.
Monkeys need space, companionship, and considerable mental stimulation. Being kept in a shed, or someone’s living room as a pet simply cannot fulfil these needs.
Many species also scent mark, which means that they will want to spread their musky smell everywhere.
Monkeys require very specialised diets. Many pet monkeys are not given the correct diet, and this results in debilitating and painful health problems.
Monkeys need to grow up with their mothers so that they can learn life skills. Removing them from their mothers at too young an age in efforts to tame them, can cause significant suffering to both the mother and their young.
Monkeys really are amazing animals, but they do not make good pets!
For more information about why monkeys are not suited as pets, and how you can campaign for the end in their trade see: