Monkeys behaving badly

Naughty monkeys are everywhere and although these primates haven’t (yet) shown a taste for rock’n’roll, they certainly have a penchant for sex, drugs, and daylight robbery

It sometimes seems as though monkeys actually enjoy misbehaving, but some studies have shown many primates may actually have some sort of moral compass. Chimpanzees will punish members of the group that break social rules, and hungry rhesus monkeys refuse to administer electric shocks to their peers even if it means earning more food. Capuchins don’t like unequal pay. When pairs were rewarded different amounts of food for carrying out the same task, individuals that failed to benefit often refused to partake, or would throw their reward back at the researchers.
However, for every instance of good behaviour there seem to be stories to counter balance it. Some species, much like humans, have succumbed to gambling, showing a preference for riskier strategies and will risk forgoing food for a larger reward. But we don’t just see naughty monkeys in artificial lab-based environments; there are examples of addiction, theft, and even gangster-like mob mentality in the wild.  The internet is awash with stories of monkeys behaving badly that never cease to fascinate us, probably because it reminds us of our own behaviour. It’s worth noting that monkeys aren’t naturally violent – they show aggression toward each other to create social hierarchies but usually conflicts with humans are due to poor husbandry, handling, or encroachment into their habitat.

Capuchins get drunk and terrorise locals in Brazil

A Brazilian bar was brought to a standstill earlier this year when a capuchin nicknamed Furious George drank some rum, snatched a knife, and chased the customers around. George left the women to drink in relative peace but the men were taunted until the monkey’s capture by the local fire department. George was released in a nearby nature reserve – only to be recaptured for harassing and scaring local children. Wayward capuchins have been known to devise tools out of stone to break out of their enclosures in zoos and outsmart their keepers. In Costa Rica, they break into houses. As humans have encroached onto capuchin habitat, the monkeys have returned the favour and have trespassed in return. It may sound comical but it’s become a serious problem in parts of Brazil where marauding gangs break into homes and steal fruit and other items. Capuchins are some of the most intelligent creatures and have been trained in studies to use small aluminium tokens as money to exchange for food. They learned to value tokens and look after them, but this soon descended into chaos as they began to steal from each other. The monkeys became the first non-human animals to use ‘money’.

Black-striped Capuchin (Sapajus libidinosus paraguayanus) adult, sitting on branch, Pantanal, Mato Grosso, Brazil, May
Alcohol, knives, and break-ins are just a few vices of this intelligent primate

Baboons act like gangsters

Fred the baboon and his gang were notorious for carjacking in Cape Town, South Africa. He chased away helpless humans and ransacked cars for whatever treats were inside. He was so skilled he could raid five cars in under five minutes. If humans weren’t too happy to part with their vehicle, Fred could get violent and three unlucky tourists were injured. Documentaries have even been made immortalising Fred’s reign of terror. He continued until government officials captured him in 2011. After his death, scientists were shocked to learn during the post mortem that he had been shot more than 50 times during his life. His body was riddled with pellets and bullets – but this hadn’t stopped him. Veterinarian Mark Evans said he could “bite like a lion, run like a cheetah, and rule his troop like a despotic emperor”. He behaved like a gangster, making full use of his talent for using intimidation, unzipping bags and opening car doors.

Specie Papio ursinus family of Cercopithecidae
Police pursued Fred, the leader of a baboon gang, for three years

Cotton-top tamarins whisper to each other

Growing up, most children are taught that it’s rude to whisper. But this etiquette rule is something clearly not passed down the generations in cotton-top tamarins. The first non-human primate to whisper, this behaviour was first discovered at New York City’s Central Park Zoo. The keepers were originally carrying out an experiment into alarm calls and how the monkeys warn each other of danger, but instead they were greeted with silence. When going through the recordings, they later discovered the monkeys were communicating after all, but in very hushed tones. They realised that when a distrusted keeper walks in, the monkeys began to whisper.

EBTFD4 cotton-top tamarin, white-plumed tamarin (Saguinus oedipus, Oedipomidas oedipus), hanging at a tree
These punk primates have been caught gossiping behind their keeper’s backs


Snow macaques entertain themselves with snowball fights

Snow monkeys make the most of the chilly conditions they live in and when they aren’t bathing in the hot springs they seem to be busy entertaining themselves making snowballs. They are the only non-human primate to live so far north, and with their thick coats they are certainly prepared for the climate. The Japanese islands they are found on are covered with snow for a third of the year. Also known as Japanese macaques, they have been captured on video carrying the snowballs they had carefully made and rolling them downhill to chase. While most monkeys take part in making the snowballs, it is usually the younger individuals that start to throw them at one another.

A124CA Japanese macaque snow monkey with snowball Jigokudani Japan
These punk primates have been caught gossiping behind their keeper’s backs


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