Somebody tell Stephen Colbert!
Carnage at the Beekse Bergen Safari Park in Amsterdam when a sloth bear eats Barbary macaque in front of aghast visitors. [AP]
Welcome to scientific awareness, Rungwecebus kipunji!
I always feel weird about saying that a "new" species of primate has been "discovered." Invariably the "new" species has been on the planet longer than humans have. Furthermore, it usually turns out that plenty of people have known about these critters for ages, just not the visiting scientists who "discover" them.
That's no slight on the scientists, of course. It takes a lot of expertise to recognize that an unfamiliar and fast-moving simian belongs to a species heretofore unknown to science, let alone to prove that your monkey is the first-known example of the first new primate genus to be discovered in 83 years.
Hat tip to my brother Loren.
Biologists are baffled by the mysterious deaths of 3000 Costa Rican monkeys:
San Jose.– Biologists and veterinarians are baffled by the death of more than 3,000 monkeys of various species at a remote national park in southwestern Costa Rica.
The deaths of the spider, white-faced capuchin, howler and squirrel monkeys occurred over several weeks late last year in Corcovado National Park, prompting Costa Rican and U.S. scientists to launch an investigation.
Eduardo Carrillo, a scientist at the National University of Costa Rica, told the press that between 30 and 40 percent of the monkey population at the park - home to some 10,000 primates - had died, probably from a disease, though the nature of the illness remains a mystery. [Dominican Today]
Via Monkeys in the News.
See also this BBC news clip on the Costa Rican monkey deaths.
No, they're not being fattened up for seder dinner.
Here's why New York monkeys love Passover:
Security has been tight this week at the Central Park Zoo, with ticket takers, staff, and guards on the lookout for suspicious packages of cookies, pretzels, hot-dog buns, and pound cake. Observant Jews have till Wednesday to clear their houses of hametz (leavened products) before Passover, and every year many of them take their castoffs to the zoo. Baffled zoo staff note that the snow monkeys are the main beneficiaries of the pre-holiday pig-out, apparently because the polar bear’s glass wall is too high and the sea lions would only be interested if offered gefilte fish. “If a big group comes in carrying bags, admission is going to notice,” says zoo spokesperson Kate McIntyre. [New York Magazine]
Hat tips to Thad and Ezra.
If you read Hot Zone you know that source of the ebola virus was an epidemiological mystery for many years. Scientists knew the virus had to live somewhere in between outbreaks, but they couldn't pinpoint the species. Monkeys were prime suspects.
Researchers in Gabon and Congo have found the source of the ebola virus: three species of fruit bat. The ebola microbe, which is deadly to humans and other apes, is harmless to the bats. Fruit bats are commonly eaten by humans in Africa, and researchers say this is probably how outbreaks occur. [LAT]
Looks like we owe our primate cousins a big apology.
It has been widely reported that socialite Paris Hilton was attacked by her pet monkey, Baby Luv, as she shopped for bras at Agent Provocateur. Primate lovers reacted with curiosity and elation. Baby Luv's species became a topic of intense speculation. News reports described Baby Luv as part racoon, part monkey. Knowledgeable primate media watchers assumed the gossip collumnists were describing a lemur, or perhaps a galago. But it turnst out that Baby Luv isn't a monkey after all, he's a kinkajou, a racoonlike creature native to South America.
>Does anyone have any footage of Paris with her kinkajou? I want to post it at Crooks and Liars?
Snow monkey live-cam, people. What are you waiting for?
The sidebar links are all in Japanese, but don't worry. Just click. It's all cute.
I thought this article was going to be about the ethical challenges of conducting medical research on higher primates: Ethicists Offer Advice for Testing Human Brain Cells in Primates. You know, the behaviorally complex, sentient, endangered ones. The ones some people suspect of having, like, intrinsic value and stuff.
Good, I thought. This is a public discussion that is long overdue. Higher primate research is on of the most interesting and most neglected topics in bioethics. Abortion and euthanasia are easy compared to the ethics of invasive medical research on chimps.
The ethics of higher primate research are at the intersection of philosophy of mind, applied ethics, and environmental ethics. What kind of mental lives do these creatures have? How does their psychology relate to their moral status? How important is medical progress compared to environmental conservation? (For the record, I believe that experimentation on chimpanzees and other higher primates can be morally justifiable under exceptional circumstances, i.e., if there's absolutely no other way to test a promising treatment for a terrible human disease.)
Unfortunately, this article doesn't directly address any of the interesting aspects of primate research. Instead, it's another chimera-watch.
If stem cells ever show promise in treating diseases of the human brain, any potential therapy would need to be tested in animals. But putting human brain stem cells into monkeys or apes could raise awkward ethical dilemmas, like the possibility of generating a humanlike mind in a chimpanzee's body.
No such experiments are planned right now. But in a paper today in the journal Science, a group of scientists and ethicists is advising researchers to exercise care with such experiments, particularly if they should lead to a large fraction of a chimpanzee's brain's being composed of human neurons.
The group, led by Ruth R. Faden, a biomedical ethicist at Johns Hopkins University, acknowledged the view that monkeys and apes should not be experimented on at all, but nevertheless considered what kinds of research should be permitted if the experiments were required by regulatory authorities.
Here is the policy review that inspired the news item:
Mark Greene, Kathryn Schill, Shoji Takahashi, et al. Moral Issues of Human-Non-Human Primate Neural Grafting. Science, Vol 309, Issue 5733, 385-386 , 15 July 2005. Full text [Subscribers].
The original article is thoughtful but unexciting. It's a 2-page essay written by a committee of philosophers who don't have the space to pursue any specific empirical or conceptual arguments in detail. The authors acknowledge that it's unlikely but nevertheless conceivable, that neural grafting could alter the mental status of non-human primates in morally relevant ways.
It seems somewhat far-fetched to be worrying about engrafting a few human neurons into an overwhelmingly ape brain. Frankly, it strikes me as perverse to focus on the conceptual possibility that non-human primates might become even more sentient than they already are when the great apes may already be sentient enough to merit serious moral consideration in their own right.
In capes, no less...
Baby Monkey Stolen From Primate Expert's Florida Home
MIAMI -- Three masked men in capes stole a baby owl monkey Thursday from the home of a primate expert, police said. [AP]
The good news: a new species of monkey is now known to science.
The bad news: Reuters is falsely reporting that "The highland mangabey is <b>the first new species of monkey identified in 20 years</b> and conservationists immediately said the find showed how important it was to preserve African forests."
If there were a contest for cutest venomous creature the slow loris would win hands down (or elbows out, as the case may be).
The slow loris secretes a toxin from sebaceous glands located in crooks of its elbows. When a loris is fixing to bite, it first coats its own teeth in the poison. If a mother slow loris has to leave her babies unattended she will slick them down with poison to protect them from predators in her absence.
Having worked extensively with the lorises for the last couple years I am absolutely smitten with them. However, while they have the face of those cute and cuddly gremlins, they have the attitude of the evil, after-midnight flipside. With disproportionately huge and sharp canine teeth (very fang-like) and powerful jaw muscles their bites alone can be absolutely agonising. However, the pain is compounded by factors beyond the simple tissue trauma caused by the mechanical damage from the powerful jaws. The lorises are actually toxic! On the inside of their elbows, sebaceous tissue secretes a toxin (like sweat pores, which is rather fitting since the toxic mixture smells remarkably like sweaty socks). The lorises take it into their mouth and deliver it in the bite. It is not the upper and lower jaw vampire like canine teeth that deliver this toxin. It is the innocuously small teeth in the front of the lower jaw which slope forward and help conduct the saliva into the wound.
You know he's got his eye on the movie rights...
Mesa police want to add monkey to SWAT team
Apr. 16, 2005 03:10 PM
MESA, Ariz. - The Mesa Police Department is looking to add some primal instinct to its SWAT team. And to do that, it's looking to a monkey.
"Everybody laughs about it until they really start thinking about it," said Mesa Officer Sean Truelove, who builds and operates tactical robots for the suburban Phoenix SWAT team. "It would change the way we do business."
Truelove is spearheading the department's request to purchase and train a capuchin monkey, considered the second smartest primate to the chimpanzee. [Ed: Where does that leave humans?] The department is seeking about $100,000 in federal grant money to put the idea to use in Mesa SWAT operations.
The monkey, which costs $15,000, is what Truelove envisions as the ultimate SWAT reconnaissance tool.
Since 1979, capuchin monkeys have been trained to be companions for people who are quadriplegics by performing daily tasks, such as serving food, opening and closing doors, turning lights on and off, retrieving objects and brushing hair.
Truelove hopes the same training could prepare a monkey for special-ops intelligence.
Weighing only 3 to 8 pounds with tiny humanlike hands and puzzle-solving skills, Truelove said it could unlock doors, search buildings and find suicide victims on command. Dressed in a Kevlar vest, video camera and two-way radio, the small monkey would be able to get into places no officer or robot could go.
It has been a little over a year since Truelove filed a grant proposal with the U.S. Department of Defense under the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and he is still waiting for word.
If the grant goes through, Truelove plans on learning how to train the monkey himself and keeping the sociable monkey at home, just like a K-9 officer would. He projects that $85,000 in grant money would outfit the monkey with gear and pay for veterinarian care, food and habitat for three years.
Twenty-five, according Milk River Blog.
I knew I was going to get outbid.
(*Tenure of said, heretofore unnamed adorable species almost certainly exceeds that of H. sapiens.)
[Via the tenacious Loren B.]
Gorilla Foundation rocked by breast display lawsuit
Former employees say they were told to expose chests
Two former employees of the Gorilla Foundation, home to Koko the "talking" ape, have filed a lawsuit contending that they were ordered to bond with the 33-year-old female simian by displaying their breasts.
Nancy Alperin and Kendra Keller, both of San Francisco, are taking on the Woodside nonprofit and its president, Francine "Penny" Patterson. [San Francisco Chronicle]
Bush Monkeys,' a painting by 23-year-old artist Christopher Savido of President Bush, hangs at the Animal gallery on New York City's Lower East Side, December 13, 2004. The portrait of Bush using monkeys to form his image led to the closure of a New York art exhibition over the weekend and anguished protests on Monday over freedom of expression. Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters. [Full story]
[Via Baboon's Palace.]
Here is a different story about a monkey-related sign. Located at Kôraku-kan, a rustic Japanese inn in snow monkey country, the sign reads: Do not be alarmed if the monkeys get in the bath with you. [SFgate]
See also: Lopburi Monkey Festival Photo Gallery in which monkeys feast on 2 1/2 tons of fruit and many, many six packs of soda.
Say your Christmas list includes a vervet, and you're hesitant to shell out for a real car (as shown above). What should you get for that special little cercopithecine? Tom of idiolect.org refers shoppers to the relevant empirical research:
Title: Sex differences in response to children's toys in nonhuman primates (Cercopithecus aethiops sabaeus)
Author(s): Alexander GM, Hines M
Source: EVOLUTION AND HUMAN BEHAVIOR 23 (6): 467-479 NOV 2002
Sex differences in children's toy preferences are thought by many to arise from gender socialization. However, evidence from patients with endocrine disorders suggests that biological factors during early development (e.g., levels of androgens) are influential. In this study, we found that vervet monkeys (Cercopithecus aethiops sabaeus) show sex differences in toy preferences similar to those documented previously in children. The percent of contact time with toys typically preferred by boys (a car and a ball) was greater in male vervets (n=33) than in female vervets (n=30) (P<.05), whereas the percent of contact time with toys typically preferred by girls (a doll and a pot) was greater in female vervets than in male vervets (P<.01). In contrast, contact time with toys preferred equally by boys and girls (a picture book and a stuffed dog) was comparable in male and female vervets. The results suggest that sexually differentiated object preferences arose early in human evolution, prior to the emergence of a distinct hominid lineage. This implies that sexually dimorphic preferences for features (e.g., color, shape, movement) may have evolved from differential selection pressures based on the different behavioral roles of males and females, and that evolved object feature preferences may contribute to present day sexually dimorphic toy preferences in children.
I just had to blog about this story as it combines two of my very favorite tropes: baby primates and Boston:
The 4-pound baby hasn't been named because its gender is still unknown.
I think the new arrival should be called "Sox"--a fine unisex name.
Sooo close, yet so far... [Nature.com]
The growing monkey population had become a serious problem there but the villagers could not ask the government to control them because, according to Hindu belief, monkeys are holy to the god Hanuman, and no one would dare to interfere with them. So the frustrated villagers resorted to more drastic measures.
eBay item 5512896140 Adult Blue Ball Monkey Mascot Costume Expanding Penis
Yeah, okay, the free market is cool sometimes.
[Via homunculus of Monkey Filter.]
Monkey Picked Tea is a wonderfully refreshing brew that has been hand – or rather paw - picked by monkeys! Do not adjust your computer - you read it right the first time. These well cared for monkeys are famous in their native China and are specially trained by their owners to pick rare, wild tea plants in inaccessible places, such as cliff faces. [...] Best of all, the monkeys enjoy their work. Picking tea is a family business for most of these resourceful little simians, as their parents before them were usually in the tea picking trade too.
Embattled quadriplegic Steven Seidler sent his helper monkey into hiding rather than relinquish her to City officials. Darla the macaque bit a 2-year-old boy in the Avenue U Key Food. Seilder said that the boy pulled the monkey's fur repeatedly before she bit him. It sounds like Seidler was the only person to witness the attack, yet the papers are running with the boy's grandmother's story of an unprovoked attack. The local papers have launched a crusade against Seidler. The New York Daily News charmingly refers him as a "self-professed disabled man" and to Darla the "attack macaque."
I'm ashamed to say that there is a lot of ignorance about helper monkeys here in Brooklyn. People don't realize that Darla isn't just a pet or a curiosity. She's a specially trained assistance animal who enjoys the same legal status as a guide dog under the Americans With Disabilities Act. There's obviously a lot of bad blood between Seidler and his neighbors. Part of the problem is that people are utterly clueless about helper monkeys. People know better than to distract a guide dog on duty but apparently helper monkeys don't automatically command the same restraint.
For more information about helper monkeys, see the Helping Hands website. Helping Hands has been placing specially trained capuchin monkeys with disabled patients for 25 years. Helping Hands monkeys undergo three years of training and acclimatization with a foster family before they are assigned to their disabled owners.
Bangkok police are investigating the apparent deaths of 41 orang-utans at the city's Safari World wildlife park.
Park officials said the animals died from natural causes, but police suspect they may have been killed or moved elsewhere to avoid DNA tests.
The park is already under investigation for allegedly smuggling orang-utans from Indonesia and Malaysia.
Last week it was forced to suspend its controversial orang-utan kick-boxing fights due to international pressure.[...]
More on the discontinued the orangutan kickboxing matches. [Monkeywire]
The New York Daily News headline: Monkey tales grow-owner may lose her
The backstory: Darla the macaque bit a toddler at Brookyn's Avenue U Key Food last week, allegedly after the two-year-old pulled her fur repeatedly.
The boy's grandmother, Helene Romano, 47, said the monkey went ape on young Thomas, who did not even notice the animal until he was bitten in the vegetable aisle.
Yeah, right, a two-year-old who doesn't notice a monkey until it attacks him? What kind of grandmother doesn't notice that her grandson is being rushed by a macaque in the produce aisle?
Now another Brooklyn resident is complaining that two years ago, the helper macaque bit her daughter Shayna on the knee.
Darla's owner, Steven Seidler, was walking his primate in front of Mogorichova's home two years ago when the woman's daughter Elizabeth, now 11, accidentally clipped the monkey's tail with her bike. Darla reared and sank her teeth into the girl's knee, said the outraged mom. "That's when they should have taken the animal," Mogorichova said.
Clearly a vicious and unprovoked attack, that. Although this mother claims to have confronted the police about the incident, the police say they have no record of any monkey-related complaints from her.
Local helper monkey harassed Key Food. Bites in self defense. [Via Monkeywire.]
A reader asks why this study matters, given that brain size doesn't correlate with intelligence. Carl Zummer of The Loom explains.
Gross brain size doesn't correlate very well with intelligence, either within a species, or across species. However, the ratio of brain size to body size is correlated with intelligence. All other things being equal, a large body will require a larger brain to monitor and control a larger body. So, it's no surprise that elephants have bigger brains than humans. Yet, relative to the animal kingdom at large, humans and other primates tend to have very large brains for their bodies. I weigh about as much as a Great Dane, yet my brain accounts for a much higher percentage of my body weight. (Cognitive scientists and ethologists, please feel free to bitchslap me for being so cavalier with the word "intelligence".)
So, why do some creatures have all the extra brain tissue? The excess calls for an explanation because brain tissue is so expensive to build and maintain. Extra brain tissue would have had to earn its keep every step of the way. Otherwise, creatures with more streamlined brains would enjoyed an advantage over those with expensive "parasitic" brain tissue. Zummer places the Machiavellian Monkey findings in context:
[The primatologists] found that in 18 species from all the major branches of primates, the size of the neocortex predicts how much deception the species practices. Bigger brains mean more trickery. They were able to statistically rule out a number of other factors that might have created a link where none existed. And they were able to show that deception is not just a side-effect of having a big brain or something that opportunistically emerges more often in big groups. Deception is probably just a good indicator of something bigger going on here--something psychologists sometimes call "social intelligence." Primates don't just deceive one another; they also cooperate and form alliances and bonds, which they can keep track of for years.
[Zummer link courtesy of PZ Meyers ofPharyngula.]
This just in, via the New Scientist newswire. Exciting new data on theory of mind in primates. Sneakiest primates have biggest brains.
Monkeys and apes who are good at deceiving their peers also have the biggest brains relative to their body size. The finding backs the "Machiavellian intelligence" theory, which suggests the benefits of complex social skills fuelled the evolution of large primate brains....[Click here to read the full text.]
Chan Yiu Wing, 51, accompanies his father's monkey 'Kam Ying' after his father 'Chan Pak' died this week in Hong Kong, June 24, 2004. The fate of Hong Kong's most famous monkey, Kam Ying, now hangs in the balance after his owner of many years died recently. Kam Ying, which means Golden Eagle, shot to prominence when authorities forcibly removed the monkey from his owner in recent years. The owner Chan Pak died this week in hospital and the monkey is said to be very forlorn and has hardly eaten since the old man left for the hospital.[Via REUTERS.] [For Thad.]