We’re All in the Family

By: Hilary Hemmes-Kavanaugh MSc

You’re having a relaxing evening in. After flipping through your options, you find yourself watching a nature show featuring a primate that you can’t name but you are certain of one thing: it is definitely a monkey. However, you might be wrong. Just because an animal is a primate does not mean it is a monkey. Unknown to many, monkeys and apes are genetically and physically different from one another.

One of the quickest ways to determine if you are looking at an ape or not is to ask yourself: “Do I see a tail?”

If there is no tail then the primate at hand is an ape and not a monkey or prosimian. Apes are large bodied primates known for larger brains, long mother-infant rearing and impressive tool use (to name a few). Chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos, orangutans, gibbons, and humans are all apes.

(Pan troglodytes)

Western lowland gorilla
(Gorilla gorilla)

(Pan paniscus)

Sumatran orangutan
(Pongo abelli)

Western hoolock gibbon
(Hoolock hoolock)

(Homo sapiens)

Monkeys are incredibly diverse and unspecific in their features, habitat and behavior. They can be found everywhere from the snowy mountains of Japan to the soggy rainforests of Brazil. Capuchins, Japanese macaques (snow monkeys) and baboons are all common examples of monkeys.

Interestingly, there are only five distinct species of great apes, compared to the 260+ species of monkeys. Great apes tend to attract a wider audience due to their numerous appearances in books, movies, and TV shows. They also are more genetically and behaviorally similar to humans. You most likely have had a moment where you’ve seen a gorilla or chimpanzee at a zoo or video online and can’t shake the uncanny resemblance we share.

Black-capped capuchin
(Cebus apella)

Japanese macaque or Snow monkey (Macaca fuscata)

Olive baboon
(Papio anibus)

It is without question that behind those eyes lies an extremely sentient being looking back at you. However, we are here to promote that the same admiration and consideration need to be offered to other non-human primates that are in need of a sanctuary. In the United States alone there are more than 100,000 monkeys being kept in laboratories for invasive and non-invasive medical and psychological tests. They are used in many of the same experiments as chimpanzees before they were phased out of laboratory testing beginning with the CHIMP Act in 2013.

Unfortunately, it is quite obvious by the lack of infrastructure and finances that monkeys do not receive the same advocacy for retirement that chimpanzees have. Until we have rallied the same effort to develop sanctuaries for monkeys, too many will live their entire existence in labs, never experiencing the fulfillment of retirement to sanctuary.

Monkeys are primates. Chimpanzees are primates. And yes, you are a primate. We are all in the family–and together we can give back to the monkeys who have given us so much.

What Did You Learn?

Try to answer the three questions below without looking at the blog above. Find your answers at the bottom of this page to see how you did. Good luck!

1. Easy: Look closely at the photo below, is this an ape or monkey?
Rhesus-macaque-carrying-suckling-infant     RhesusMacaque

2. Medium: Which of the three primates listed below are not apes?

A. Chimpanzee         E. Bonobo

B. Gibbon                  F. Macaque

C. Baboon                 G. Capuchin

3. Hard: Answer the three questions below.

A. Look at the images below, are these photos of monkeys or apes?

B. Are they the same or different types of primate?

C. Can you remember the name of these primates?

bonobo1 .   Female-chimpanzee-with-infants






Answers to Questions:

1. Easy: They are monkeys, specifically old world monkeys known as rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) found throughout much of Asia

2. Medium: C. Baboon, F. Macaque and G. Capuchin are not apes.

3. Hard: A) they are apes. B) they are different types of apes. C) Image A is a bonobo (Pan piniscus) and image B is a chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes)

FOOTNOTE: The tail of an adult Gibraltar macaque (macaques are a type of old world monkeys) only grows to be 0.4-2.2 cm in length which has frequently lead to them being confused as an ape.  Primates are technically separated into three categories: apes, monkeys, or prosimians. They are all genetically and physically different from one another. Prosimians are the only primates native to Madagascar (lemurs) but are also found in Africa and Asia. Many are very small (excluding lemurs), nocturnal and eat insects as a large part of their diet. There are two types of apes: Great apes, and small bodied apes. Gibbons and Siamangs are small bodied apes. Finally, there are two types of monkeys, old world monkeys (OWM) and new world monkeys (NWM). NWM are native to South America and OWM are found throughout Africa and Asia.

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