World Monkey Day 2020

December 14th is a day to celebrate all of our “monkey” friends and non-human primates (apes, tarsiers and lemurs). 

monkey and primate family tree
About Monkeys

Monkeys are cute and very entertaining. They have large brains, are highly intelligent and very vocal, making a wide variety of sounds depending on their situation. In addition, they are very humanlike in so many ways. For example, opposing thumbs, use tools (sticks and rocks) to perform many tasks, use leaves to scoop up water to drink, show many emotions (love, anger, sadness, joy and laughter), and possess their own set of unique fingerprints.

Chimpanzees are our closest living relative sharing 99% of our DNA. 

Chimpanzee, Kibale National Forest, Uganda
Chimpanzee, Kibale National Forest, Uganda

There are over 264 known species of monkeys in the world. Monkeys are divided into two main groups. Old World Monkeys live in Africa and Asia, and New World monkeys live in South America.  Apes are primates but are not monkeys. 

What are the differences between Old World Monkeys and New World Monkeys?

Old World Monkey facts
  • Tend to be larger in overall size.
  • Narrow nostrils pointing downwards
  • Padded hairless buttocks designed for sitting for long periods on the ground
  • Tree and land dwelling
  • They don’t have prehensile tails, which means they cannot use their tails to grab onto tree branches or other objects
  • Possess cheek pouches to store food
  • Have finger and toenails
New World Monkey facts
  • Tree dwelling and spend most of their lives in the trees
  • Have a prehensile tail, which means that they can use their tails to grasp and hold objects, such as tree branches and provide balance and support which swinging through the tree branches 
  • Sharp fingernails for grasping on to tree branches
  • No buttock pads or cheeks pouches
  • Wider nostrils which are more rounded
  • Indigenous to the Americas (marmosets, tamarinds, capuchins and spider monkeys)
  • The world’s smallest monkey is the pygmy marmoset weighing only 113 grams and 12.7cm tall
  • The worlds largest monkey is the mandrill, weighing 35kg and 1 metre tall. 
  • Monkeys do eat bananas, but they also eat nuts, fruits, seeds, flowers and some eat meat (bird’s eggs, small lizards and rodents, insects and spiders).
Chimpanzee, Kibale National Park, Uganda.
Other monkey facts
  • Monkeys have tails whereas apes don’t
  • If there is a lack of food, female monkeys will stop mating until there are better conditions for getting pregnant and raising young
  • Females will only give birth once every two years
  • Monkeys express affection with others by grooming each other
  • A group of monkeys is called a tribe, troop or mission
  • Lifespan in the wild is around 30-50 years
  • Brazil has the most primate species than any other country
  • Monkeys live in tribes. Ethiopian gelada monkeys form the largest tribes with up to 600 members
Gelada Monkey, Simeon Mountains, Ethiopia
Gelada Monkey, Simien Mountains, Ethiopia
Silverback Mountain Gorilla, Bwindi National Park, Uganda
Silverback Mountain Gorilla, Bwindi National Park, Uganda
Conservation status

All monkey species are suffering due to humans. Monkey populations have significantly decreased over the past decades, and many species are in danger of extinction.  

Red colobus monkey
Red Colobus Monkey, Kibale Forest, Uganda. Endangered species.

The biggest threat to monkeys is the loss of habitat. Loss of habitat is due to deforestation, clearing land for agriculture, villages and roads. In addition, forest fires are destroying habitats. Loss of habitat also means not only loss of habitat but also loss of food which is significantly affecting their livelihood.

Endemic Bale Monkey
Endemic Bale Monkey, Bale Mountains National Park, Uganda. Vulnerable species (IUCN).

Monkeys steal farmers’ crops and are killed and poisoned because they have become a nuisance.

At present, over 21 primate species are considered endangered, and in addition, 46 others are currently listed as vulnerable to extinction.

Black and White Colobus Monkey
Black and White Colobus Monkey, Ishasha National Park, Uganda. Vulnerable (IUCN).

Current monkey conservation efforts are focusing on trying to reduce human-monkey conflict. Endeavours to limit deforestation will not only protect monkeys but also help other wildlife. In addition, restricting land clearing, alternative food sources to prevent killing monkeys for bushmeat and controlling the human population will reduce the amount of land needed for agriculture and food. 

Blue Monkey
Blue Monkey, Uganda.

Raising awareness about the importance of protecting monkeys and other wildlife is crucial in saving the species. In addition, laws to stop poaching, illegal animal trafficking and keeping monkeys as pets are urgently needed.

Red Tailed Monkey
Red-Tailed Monkey, Kibale National Park.

There are many government organised breeding programs to protect and increase the population of monkeys, particularly the endangered ones. But, sadly, many of these captive monkeys will only ever have lived in captivity. Once released into the wild, they may suffer at the hands of poachers, illegal traffickers, farmers, or eaten for bushmeat. 

Baboon family
Baboon Family, Bwindi National Park, Uganda.
Sir David Attenborough ~
battle of the snow monkeys
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