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World Monkey Day

Monkeys are cognitively complex individuals, and they are in need of our help


A guest post by Dave Neale, Animal Welfare Director, Animals Asia


Monkey, in general, refers to any of over 260 species of tailed primates, including macaques, baboons, guenons, capuchins, marmosets and tamarins. The presence of a tail (even if only very small in some species), distinguishing monkeys from apes.


Monkeys are grouped into New World or Old World monkeys. Old World monkeys live in Europe, Africa, and Asia, and New World monkeys are indigenous to the Americas.

New World monkeys are nearly exclusively arboreal, living up in the trees. Some have prehensile tails which can grasp or hold on to objects or branches. Old World monkeys also have tails, but they cannot grasp objects and they spend more time on the ground.

Monkeys are capable of sitting upright, and, consequently, their hands are free to perform manipulative tasks, and in recent years we have begun to learn more about the fascinating cognitive abilities of many of these incredible species.


The great apes are famously known to be adept at using tools, from sticks for catching termites, to leaves as umbrellas, but 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 and passing on their skills to their family members.


Capuchin monkeys use stones as a tool for cracking nuts. They strategically place their nuts on a flat surface before trying to crack them open, paying attention to the fit between the nut and the surface and adjusting their actions accordingly. Stone tools even fill a part of their mating rituals, with observations of female capuchins throwing stones at potential mates to get their attention as part of their sexual displays.


Researchers exploring the use of stones by these clever monkeys believe that they may have been using them in this way for some 3000 years. Not only that, they have also been refining their skills and adapting to their environments, 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 cas