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lemurs.gif (280030 bytes)When visitors to zoos are canvassed for their opinions, they usually admit to having enjoyed the monkeys most of all. Clearly this cannot apply to every zoo, since not every zoo keeps monkeys. Also, since many visitors wrongly consider chimpanzees, gibbons and orang utans to be monkeys, the poll is rather stripped of its validity. Nevertheless there is no doubt that monkeys are popular, and they are certainly entertaining. Probably it boils down to a combination of their comic resemblance to humankind, their acrobatic skills, and to the fact that they are almost always active while other zoo animals just seem to sleep in a corner.

Excluding the apes, there are over  one hundred and twenty   different species or subspecies of primates in the world’s zoos. It is doubtful whether more than a handful of people could correctly identify them all on sight. They vary from the little pygmy marmoset and the fat-tailed dwarf lemur to the mandrill and the hamadryas baboon. They include several Red Data Book species, like the golden lion tamarin whose home in the Brazilian Atlantic Rainforest has been practically eliminated, the leaf-eating done langur from South-East Asia which was almost exterminated by the effects of the recent wars, and the lion-tailed macaque from India which suffers from poaching and habitat destruction. There are also a great many common species. They include the familiar and the unfamiliar, like capuchins, squirrel monkeys, lemurs, bush babies, marmosets, colobus, patas monkeys, and macaques.

With such a variety, it is not altogether fair to generalise about the best zoo conditions for primates. There are bound to be exceptions to every rule. Nevertheless, there are some general things to look out for. Perhaps the most important factor with most (but not all ) species is the social group. Most monkeys are social animals and they will suffer if kept alone or in very small groups. London Zoo has shown in the Sobell Pavilion how the welfare of the monkeys has improved with the expansion of the groups, and this principle is being adopted now by all good zoos.

In temperate climates, most monkeys need heated indoor accommodation to help them cope with the cold, and good zoos have a system of indoor and outdoor cages. Glass is a useful barrier now widely used on indoor rooms. Many monkeys can be kept on grass, and although it is rarely practical to keep monkeys in trees because they will strip both leaves and bark, this can be used to good effect with some species. Climbing is a crucial requirement, and generally the more climbing facilities available, the better. Height is a dimension often forgotten in designing monkey cages, and zoos that have constructed very high outdoor cages have discovered a way ofdrarnatically increasing the space available for the monkeys without taking any more ground area. At the same time this allows visitors to observe monkeys from the same viewpoint that they would have on safari, by looking upwards.

Safari Parks and Wild Animal Parks were quick to discover that monkeys were a major attraction. Cars always linger longer in the monkey jungle than they do even among the lions. The species best suited are the ground-fiving monkeys, baboons and rhesus monkeys, and although many parks have had teething problems (some of the monkeys became rapidly adept at stripping cars of aerials, vinyl roofs, and wiper blades), the monkey troupes in Safari Parks have generally thrived well.

There is an obvious problem that zoos will have to face soon. A hundred different types of monkeys will require concerted management if they are to survive for many more generations without the necessary importation of more individuals to bolster up the gene pools. With many species this is not a problem. Sufficient individuals already exist, at least for the time being. Other. species that only exist in very low numbers, often at only a single collection, are quite clearly in jeopardy.


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Editor: Jon Clarke    Research: John and Sue Ironmonger, Ray Heaton, and the readers of goodzoos.com   Illustrations by G.L.Grandy. Thanks to John Ironmonger for the original idea of GoodZoos.com.

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