Hmmm… I think I ‘m a monkey… but how do I know for sure? Image credit: Erwin Bolwidt / law_keven / CC BY-SA 2.0

Monkeys have tails. Monkeys have tails. Monkeys have tails. If you leave the zoo learning one thing about primates, learn that monkeys have tails and apes do not. This is one zoo science standard that we try to teach all visiting school children, even the kindergarteners. They are quick to learn, and teach others. They do not hesitate to correct a parent who is pointing to our tail-free chimpanzees saying, “Look at the monkey”. Makes me proud.

In preparation for our upcoming Conservation Speaker Series presenter, Noel Rowe, Founder of Primate Conservation, Inc, I decided to delve further into understanding primates by picking up his book, The Pictorial Guide to the Living Primates.

After being in the zoo industry for eight years, I figured I knew quite a bit, but I opened up the book with some of my most experienced and knowledgeable co-workers and we were all awe-struck.

Let’s begin by getting clear that a primate is a monkey, ape or prosimian. A monkey has a tail, an ape does not and a prosimian is like a lemur or bush baby. The word “prosimian” means “before apes” and is still not recognized by spell check who insists I must mean “promising.” Let’s hope that is the case for all primates. My hope for this blog is to expose my top 4 new favorite primates.

Western Tarsier -These little guys have gigantic eyes, are carnivorous and have a long, grooming claw on the third toe. They can rotate their heads 180 degrees, like an owl as they leap around trees in Indonesia, Borneo and Sumatra. Prosimian.

Pygmy Marmoset – This animal makes me want to say the C-word. The one we are not supposed to use to describe fuzzy, furry, tiny, big-eyed animals. Only 14-16 cm in length, they are the smallest true monkey. Also called a Dwarf Monkey, they live in the rainforest canopies in Brazil, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. Tail = monkey.

Gelada Baboon – This is an old world monkey with a unique hour glass-shaped area of naked, bright pink skin on the chest. It is this area that becomes swollen to signal estrus. Various bands can form a herd of up to 600 baboons, traveling throughout the high plateaus of Ethiopia, where they sleep on cliffs.  Tail = monkey.

Mountain Gorilla – OK. This is not a new favorite, but the book reminded me of how much I truly am in awe of these creatures. From the majesty of the silverback to the playfulness of the juveniles, I will always list this mostly leaf, shoot and stem eating animal as a favorite (connect other blog). No tail = ape.

If I open this book again tomorrow, I will have 4 new favorites and on and on until I cover all 250 or so primate species. It is indeed a wondrous world of animals.

To quote Jane Goodall in the book’s forward, “without our help, many monkeys, apes and prosimians will vanish.” You can begin helping by attending Noel Rowe’s lecture at the Oakland Zoo on September 23rd where he will introduce us to the 25 most endangered primates. The lecture and silent auction are an annual benefit for The Budongo Snare Removal Project in Uganda.

PS.  Monkeys have tails.

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Repeat After Me: Monkeys Have Tails. 23 April,2013Amy Gotliffe


Amy Gotliffe

Amy Gotliffe is Conservation Manager at the Oakland Zoo. She is a Detroit transplant, enjoying the good Bay Area life for 17 years. She has a degree in communications, holds several teaching credentials and has a Masters Degree in Environmental Education. She has worked at various Bay Area educational and environmental institutions, teaching second grade, working on campaigns, planting pollinator gardens, producing earth day events and generally spreading the word about wildlife and green living. She currently works at The Oakland Zoo where she serves as the Conservation Manager. There, she coordinates support for international, national and local conservation efforts, produces a Conservation Speaker Series, produces the zoo's Earth Day event, leads eco-trips, teaches the various educational programs and heads up an on-site Green Team. On her list of other passions are travel, photography, music and the lindy hop. :-)

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