My Hometown Enters the Primatology Big Leagues: International Orangutan Center in Indianapolis

The new orangutan facility at the Indianapolis Zoo is really impressive. We checked it out this past summer while visiting my family in Indy. The facility is a network of buildings, outdoor space, & climbing structures that the individuals can navigate with a fair amount of freedom &, if they want it, privacy. Unfortunately, because my iPhone kept filling up & not letting me take more photos, I deleted a few that just showed the buildings w/o any cutesy animal shots. I did not have the foresight to think how I’d use them in a blog post, but I did get a fair number of photos to show off as follow.

The main building looks like a giant church to me.  The triangular central building has a glass wall facing the front with entrances a level up on each side.Orangutan Cathedral

There are few bad spots for watching the orangs because of Rocky, the young male who loves to be watched & to return the gaze.

This is the large viewing area of the main building.

Rocky is so photogenic, I took a million photos of him, but the glare off the glass for most of them (& my poor photography) ruined them. This is an exception from the main area.

Rocky is so photogenic, I took a million photos of him, but the glare off the glass for most of them (& my poor photography) ruined them.  This is an exception from the main area.

The side entrances take visitors in around the same main room but at a higher level. IMG_2061

IMG_2060I almost missed the enrichment show because I thought it would be the usual discussion of the toys they give the animals. However, the Indy Zoo has a sophisticated program of enrichment, teaching the orangs symbol recognition & recall that the keep explains to us as he works.IMG_2097

He asks for the correct symbol that represents the red apple above.


The orang gets a treat thru a slot in the window when she gets the correct answer.IMG_2090

Yellow apple.

IMG_2085Red apple.


While watching the enrichment, we see another animal making his/her way to the back rooms through an overhead tunnel from the main room.IMG_2099

After the enrichment demo, we watched two youngsters wrestling in the main room.IMG_2069IMG_2068IMG_2067IMG_2066

Who is watching whom?IMG_2149From the center window, I could see one of my own young primates watching the young orangs.


I love this contrast of ape hands. I think that’s my hand. On the right.


The adult male came out of his nook for a few photos. The adult male is apparent by his flanged cheek pads & long matted fur (not the reflection of my Baba Brinkman “Don’t Sleep with Mean People” t-shirt superimposed over him).


Here you see the difference between an adult male & a juvenile.IMG_2141For more great shots from the International Orangutan Center, follow the Indianapolis Zoo on FacebookTwitter, YouTube, & Instagram or, better yet, go for a visit & take a good camera!

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Monkeying Around!

Here we are at the Birmingham Zoo with Christopher the gibbon

Here we are at the Birmingham Zoo with Christopher the gibbon



Student presentations are required as part of the “Non-Human Primates” course, but we all get a little tired of the lecturing, so what better way to internalize the material than engaging some of our primate preadaptations & monkeying around.

Here are some photos highlighting the experiential aspects students came up with to enhance their lessons.

Some primates may have to catch their cricket treats, but humans can buy them at the mall! Who knew?

Some primates may have to catch their cricket treats, but humans can buy them at the mall! Who knew?

Orangutans are clever with a simple tool like a stick.  Are you smarter than an orangutan?

Orangutans are clever with a simple tool like a stick. Are you smarter than an orangutan?



Are you smarter than a capuchin? It takes them years to learn to crack a Brazil nut without pulverizing it? How long would it take you?

Are you smarter than a capuchin? It takes them years to learn to crack a Brazil nut without pulverizing it? How long would it take you?


An enrichment activity!

An enrichment activity!

A good closed signaling system can help you communicate to others in your group who will help guide you to food (though I really wanted them to use monkey signals i/o human ones).

An enrichment activity!

An enrichment activity!


Unwrap it, stick your hand in the hole, dig around, & you'll find another box to open with a banana cookie inside if you get it open.

Unwrap it, stick your hand in the hole, dig around, & you’ll find…

...another box with a banana cookie inside!

…another box with a banana cookie inside!

And the last day we return to human form by eating donuts, wearing Krispy Kreme hats, & watching Robert Sapolsky stress out over his baboon research
And the last day we return to human form by eating donuts, wearing Krispy Kreme hats, & watching Robert Sapolsky stress out over his baboon research

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Chimpanzees (Common or aka Robust)

Order: Primates

Family: Hominidae

Subfamily: Homininae

Genus: Pan

Species: Pan troglodytes

The first European contact with chimpanzees happened in Angola during the 17th century by a Portuguese explorer named Duarte Pacheco, the dairy that he kept was also the first documentation that they could make tools. The use of the word chimpanzee did not happen until 1738 and is derived from the Tsiluba word ‘kivili-chimpenze’ which means mockman or apes.

Chimpanzees live in a total of 21 African countries with the majority of the population being in what use to be the equatorial belt. They range from the west coast of Africa to as far east as western Uganda and Rwanda. There are three subspecies of common chimpanzee that live within a variety of habitats, from secondary regrowth forests and open woodlands with the greatest number residing in the rain forest. Chimpanzees are covered with black hair except on their faces, hands, and feet. Their arms are longer than their legs so to get around they will move quadrupedally and are known as “knuckle walkers”. Chimpanzee males are slightly larger than females weighing in at 90 to 130 lbs whereas the female will weigh between 70 to 104 lbs. The average height of chimpanzees is around 2.5 to 3 feet tall and their average life span in the wild can be anywhere between 40 to 45 years with life span in captivity being longer.

Chimpanzees are omnivores which means they eat seeds, fruits, nuts, leaves, and will also eat insects such as termites and ants along with meat from other mammals such as monkeys but meat only makes up about 2% of their diet. Due to them having such a wide variety of food that they are able to eat allows them to live in a variety of habitats. Yes, they eat monkeys with the most common prey being red colobus monkeys (Procolobus badius) and will even lead very coordinated hunts in order to achieve this. Chimpanzees spend around half of their day feeding and spend even more time moving from food source to food source. They will also make and use tools, an example of this is a taking a limb, removing the leaves so it is relatively clean, and then will use the stick to “fish” into termite nests. They have also been known to use rocks in a anvil and hammer manner to crack nuts, just like fishing this is a learned trait and is one that requires forethought.

Chimpanzee Hunt

Chimpanzees live in social groups called troops where there can be any number between 30 to 80 individuals with these large groups “fissioning” into smaller groups where it can  be all female, all male, and mixed groups. Chimpanzee groups are very fluid and smaller groups will also fusion together. Males will usually stay within their natal group while females emigrate into other groups but this is just a generality. Chimpanzees will become sexually mature around the age of 8 to 10 years old, females will show signs of estrus for up to 35 days and she will mate with a variety of males. There is a dominance hierarchy among the males in a group, and males will most always dominate the females. It needs to be stressed here that every troop of chimpanzees is different: behavior, calls, grooming, and of course tool-use which will vary from group to group.



Habitat loss in a huge issue when it comes to chimpanzees due to land being used for agriculture and the fight for natural resources such as commercial logging and mining. There are patches of isolated forest where the chimpanzees are living because of the demand for the land. Suitable habitat is one of the greatest threats to the long term survival of not only chimpanzees but great apes in general. Not only is habitat destruction a stress on the remaining wild chimps but there is also a huge problem with them being hunted for bushmeat and also for the live animal trade. They have been an endangered species since 1975 with populations still in decline to this day with only around 150,000 left in the wild.

Bushmeat Trade

There are populations of chimpanzees in captivity also and you may be thinking about those that are in zoos, there are some that is true. As I researched for this primate biology I ran across chimpanzees in captivity that we seem to forget about; those that are used for biomedical research, kept as pets, and those used in the entertainment industry. So I challenge you, the reader, to dig a little further into these relatives of ours that we seem to exploit so easily. . . read about what you can do to help by following this link:

Just so I don’t leave you, the reader, on such a depressing note I wanted to include something that I found exciting as a way to get the message out about how chimpanzees are more like us and the plight that they are in by including this nature documentary of Oscar . . .






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Primates on the Loose at the Indianapolis Museum of Art

Sounds like a lame excuse to post photos of my kids, doesn’t it? Yeah, well, only partially. In fact, here’s one to get us started.

Lux enjoying the paintings

Lux enjoying the paintings

But what I really wanted to post was a few that involve depictions of non-human primates.

The following depicts St. Dominic with the Devil in the form of a monkey. St. Dominic apparently seized the The Devil & made him hold the candle for him.

St. Dominic & the Devil (~1630) by Pietro della Vecchia, Italian (1603-1678)

St. Dominic & the Devil (~1630) by Pietro della Vecchia, Italian (1603-1678)
The story of the Devil’s appearance to St. Dominic in the form of a monkey derives from a medieval legend, according to which the saint seized his tormentor & forced him to hold a lighted candle while he studied. St Dominic released him only after the candle burned down & singed his fingers.

I really like the portrayal of the monkey. I wonder what species it’s supposed to be? Kinda generic. Here’s a close-up.


In the African Art hall, I found this statue of a baboon.

baboon figure, wood, incrustation, cloth, early 20th century, Baule people, Cote d'Ivoire

baboon figure, wood, incrustation, cloth, early 20th century, Baule people, Cote d’Ivoire
Among the Baule people, baboon-like figures represent supernatural forces that provide protection to the community. Substances encrusted on the surface come from sacrifices made to the figure in order to combat sorcery & ensure success in hunting, farming, & disease control.

In the Asian Art Hall, I heard Japanese music playing & thought I heard a lecture, as they woman’s voice carried over the top of everything. I kept looking & finally found her here. Not a lecture but doing some loud talking that reverberated throughout the gallery. If she’d been upstairs in the Modern Art wing, I’d have thought she was an installation (& wouldn’t have been allowed to take photos of her).

Photo by Loretta Lynn

Photo by Loretta Lynn

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Bornean Orangutan

Order: Primates

Family: Hominidae


Subfamily: Ponginae

Genus: Pongo

Species: P. pygmaeus

The Bornean orangutan is one of three subspecies of orangutan and can only be found in Southeast Asia on the island of Borneo. Growing up to 5’ tall, these apes can weigh from 70-190 pounds, with arms almost long enough to drag the ground when standing upright.  Living in the thick rainforests, orangutans are the most arboreal of the great apes. In Malay, the word “orang” means person, and the word “hutan” means forest. The inhabitants of the island call them “people of the forest”. The name orangutan was first coined in English 1691 and the genus pongo was first termed by English sailor Andrew Battell while being held prisoner in Angola by the Portuguese.

The island of Borneo is the only place on Earth where Bornean orangutans can be found. They have close neighbors in Sumatra and Indonesia, the Sumatran orangutan, but these are not sympatric with the Bornean orangutans. The Bornean orangutan is unique as it can only be found on the island of Borneo itself. The jungles they inhabit there are some 500 or more meters above sea level, making them high in altitude. The loss of this habitat is becoming very apparent as logging and farming are big industries on the island with few other resources. They combine climbing and brachiation to move through the trees and seek out food but also forage on the ground for various food resources.


Bornean orangutans eat a lot of fruit and are called the gardeners of the forests for their endozoochory.  Primarily frugivores, they spend up to 90% of their foraging time eating bark and vegetation when fruit supplies are limited. Although being primarily solitary doriananimals, they will travel in small groups to forage between fruiting trees. They have been observed to practice geophagy, the eating of soil for the addition of minerals in their diets.

In addition to being terrestrial quadrupeds, orangutans are well suited for life in the dense jungle of Borneo, where they also spend a good deal of time in the trees as the largest of arboreal apes. They have long arms that almost drag the ground as they walk which makes them supreme brachiators and very strong. Their coat is a thick orange color which is bright in coloration in contrast to the neighboring Sumatran orangutans, whose coat is not as shiny. These thick coats often form some very intense dreadlocks over time. They also sport very large cheek pads that signal maturity and are supported by connective tissues.

orangutanswingingBornean orangutans are very solitary animals, often considered to be the most solitary of all the apes. Adult males and independent adolescents of both sexes range alone, while adult females range with their dependent offspring. Sub adults may travel in small groups but this will discontinue in adulthood as they seek out their own territory. Males have large ranges that overlap with resident female’s smaller ranges. This gives the male the opportunity to mate with the resident females in his range. These resident females practice female philopatry, as the females settle in ranges that overlap with their mothers. However, no interaction takes place between the mother and her female offspring and no bonding has been observed once maturity is reached in the female offspring.

Similar to humans, female orangutans have a nine month reproductive cycle with a 30 day menstrual cycle. They do not show signs of external estrus and only give birth once every six or seven years, as it is very costly to feed herself and her infant and maturity is very slow. Offspring are the most altricial of all apes and are considered immature until 9-12 years of age. Females aren’t sexually mature until they have their first infant, which can take up to 16 years. Males don’t reach adulthood until 18-20 years, which is signaled by the development of a laryngeal throat pouch, cheek pads, and a long call that can be heard up to 1.2 miles away.orangutanbabies

Because they mature and reproduce so slowly it can take decades to restore an orangutan population. Females selectively mate so doing this in captivity is not always the easiest thing to do. Bornean orangutans have no natural predators, with their biggest threat being humans. Due to deforestation, farming, and logging on the island of Borneo, these animals face a great threat because of the loss of their habitat. This places them on the endangered list and is considered to be a protected species on the island of Borneo.

blazeBlaze is a Bornean orangutan living in the Atlanta Zoo. Her date of birth is January 20, 1996 and was born in the Audubon Zoo, in New Orleans, Louisiana. She arrived at the Atlanta Zoo in 2010 and during enrichment activities or when interacting with the keepers will make squeaking noises. Her favorite treat is corn and will sometimes walk around covered in sheets. She gave birth to Pongo, a male Bornean orangutan, while at the Atlanta Zoo on January 10, 2013. Pongo was delivered by Caesarean section with the aid of a team of doctors consisting of human obstetricians, veterinary anesthesiologists, and neonatologists.




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Order: Primatessuave

Family: Hylobatidae

Genus: Symphalangus

Species: S. syndactylus


Symphalangus syndactylus, also known as the siamang, is the largest of the many species of gibbons. Both male and female siamangs have black hair and grey or pink throat sacs. They can range in height from approximately 2.5 to 3 feet, and they can weigh from 17 to 28 pounds; although there have been larger siamangs recorded. There is little sexual dimorphism between male and female siamangs, but males are slightly larger than females.


Range of Siamang Distribution

Siamangs can be found in Indonesia and Malaysia, where they live in rainforest and tropical coniferous forest habitats. The primary locomotion style of siamangs (and more generally, the Hylobate family) is brachiation, in which they swing arm-over-arm, from branch to branch, as a source of movement.  Siamangs can cover up to ten feet in a single swing, due to the length of their arms. When they are not swinging around, they walk bipedally on the ground, or along branches with outstretched arms for balance. Siamangs have extremely dexterous hands, as well as feet, their big toes are opposable! In the wild, their diet primarily consists of fruit, but they have also been known to eat leaves, small birds, bird eggs, and insects. In captivity, they are fed a broad array of fruits and vegetables, as well as, “biscuits” made especially for leaf eaters, as well as other leafy materials. This diurnal species typically lives 80-100 feet up in the trees of high altitude forests, although they can also live in lowland forests. Siamangs live in tropical climates where the weather lacks seasonality and the annual temperature does not drop below 70 degrees Fahrenheit.


reach bipedal

 Siamangs are an endangered species. This status is due to several factors which includes habitat degradation, natural disasters, illegal pet trade, and hunting. Siamangs have lost an estimated 70-80% of their habitat in the last 50 years due to the destruction of forest habitats by humans. Habitat loss is attributed to factors, such as: logging, clearing land for agricultural fields, and roads. Forest fires also threaten siamang populations. In the aftermath of a wildfire, offspring survival rates drop as food resources becomes scarce. Despite being a protected species, siamangs are sometimes sold on the blackmarket as illegal pets. Young siamangs are selectively chosen for this illegal pet trading industry. This presents problems for siamangs due to the nature of their social bonds. Parents remain in close contact with their young, and for poachers to take young siamangs away often results in the death of the mother and sometimes her young.

weirdSiamangs have an atypical social pattern compared to other primate groups. Siamangs typically live in small family groups comprised of a pair bonded male and female along with 2 to 3 immature offspring. These offspring are born mostly hairless aside from a tuft on hair on the top of their heads. Siamangs are different from most primates in that there is an aspect of equal parenting between the male and female. The male takes over the responsibility of daily parenting when the offspring is one year old. The family groups of siamangs are very close, they are rarely more than 100 feet from one another. The offspring stay with the family group for 5-7 years until they are mature enough to find a mate, which can sometimes take several years. Unlike orangutans, siamangs do not build nests in trees when they sleep, they sleep sitting upright and huddled together. Siamangs, like other gibbons, are known for their howling and singing. Siamangs have throat sacs that can reach the size of their head that they use to vocalize. These throat sacs allow them to be heard up to two miles away. Their duets act as a method of communication and are a way to reaffirm bonds and howls are usually territorial.



The siamangs we chose to focus on reside at the San Diego Zoo and are named Eloise and Unkie. Unkie was born in 1983 in Miami, FL and Eloise was born in 1981 in the San Jose Zoo. Eloise and Unkie have been pair bonded since they met in 1987. The two often sing duets together, however Unkie typically takes the spotlight and is known as “The Soprano.” Eloise has given birth to seven offspring in her many years with Unkie. They enjoy a diet of mostly fruit, although Unkie often steals food from his orangutan friends with whom he shares a habitat. Unkie and Eloise can be seen along with the orangutans on San Diego Zoo’s live Ape Cam.



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The Francois Langur

Order: Primate

Suborder: Anthropoidea

Family: Cercopithecidae

Subfamily: Colombinae

Genus: Trachypithecus (formerly Presbytis)

Species: Francoisi

Trachypithecus francoisi, better known as the Francois Langur can be found in Southeatern Asia: from Southeastern China to Central Laos and Vietnam. They tend to be both arboreal and terrestrial. Most of their habitats lay deep in the rainforests or mangroves, but some can be found among rocky cave areas.

Where the Francois Langurs can be found

Where the Francois Langurs can be found

The francois Langurs are easily identified due to their all black fur and white side burns. They are small monkeys that usually weigh approximately 13 pounds. Their bodies measure to be around two feet long with an additional three feet of tail. Francois Langurs are extremely athletic, using brachiation as their method to get from one food source to another. Their tails are not prehensile, but they do assist in helping with the langurs balance. The Francois Langur’s diet consists mostly of leaves with a small percentage of fruits, nuts, and insects. Due to their intensive-leaf diet, they have a multichambered sacculated stomach that helps digest the tough leaves! Since digesting leaves is such a complicated and tiring process, the langurs spend most of their free time resting (when not eating,) and a small percentage of the time in between grooming one another.


The Francois Langur was first noted by M. Francois of the French Consul in Lung Chow, China. He first noticed the langurs on the rocky shores between Nanning and Kuohua. The San Fransisco’s Zoo’s Francois Langurs was originally a gift from the People’s Republic of China.


Photo taken by a zoo keeper at the San Fransisco Zoo

Francois Langurs are not born with their notable black fur. Newborn langurs have bright red/orange fur, and they do not fully change until they are about one year old. The Francois Langurs travel together in a troop that consists of one alpha male, a “harlem” of females, and several infants. All females partake in raising the infants. Around three weeks old, the newborns are handed over to an “aunt” while the mother forages for food. At times female langurs can be seen carrying three infants, and not one will be her own. The troop engages in mutual grooming periods throughout the day when they are not resting and foraging for food.

“The morning of August 20 started out like any other morning at the Memphis Zoo for myself and another China Exhibit Keeper, arriving early, unlocking buildings, checking on animals and morning training sessions for Ya Y and Le Le. However, when we went to do our morning check on our Francois Langurs, we soon discovered that instead of the usual seven in our collection, we now had eight! Tanah, mother of three of our juveniles, had given birth to another little girl. Tanah is an experienced mother and knew exactly what to do. Our last two langurs born here in China were both given names that refer back to some super heroes of our time: “Bruce Wayne” and ” Vicki Vale.” With that in mind, we thought our new little girl was pretty super as well and deserved a name that reflected that. We named her “Jean Gray”  from the X-Men series. She is super and doing great. She is currently on display with the rest of her family in China. When you come out to see her, she won’t be hard to miss. Francios Langur babies are bright orange. All the females in the group take turns caring for her and carrying her around.” – Quote from the Memphis Zoo.


The group communicates with a loud “ka” call that is emitted by the male as a type of alarm to signal danger. At the Honolulu Zoo in Hawaii, their alpha male produces a Geiger counter-type click in response to his reflection in the mirror; they suspect this to be a response to a territorial threat.

The Francois Langurs are an endangered species. They face many threats but the biggest one is hunting. Especially in Vietnam, the langurs are hunted for the use of traditional “medicines,” and also for food in Chinese restaurants. In the Guangxi Province of China, hunting has become extremely severe because of the production of “Black Ape Wine.” The wine is made specifically from the Francois Langur species, and the langurs are even imported illegally from Vietnam for this very reason.










Posted in Cercopithecidae, Cercopithecoidea, Colobinae, Primate Biography | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Black and White Colobus Monkey

The Black and White Colobus Monkey is an Old World Monkey species that belongs to the Cercopithecidae family. The species is known for its ‘beautiful’ black fur that is contrasted exquisitely by a white mantle that hangs extensively off its back side, as well as bushy tail, whiskers, and beard. Not excessively large, the Colobus typically weighs in at from 15-30 pounds and reaches an approximate size of 30 inches long. The typical life span in the wild has not been measured yet, however the typical lifespan of a Colobus in captivity ranges from 20-30 years.  Primarily a tree-dwelling monkey, the Black and White Colobus is actually the predominant arboreal species in all of Africa, as it spends nearly 100% of it’s life in the expansive treetops of the African tropical forests and wooded Grasslands. The Colobus’ name is derived from the Greek work ‘kolobos’, or ‘mutilated/deformed’, and this name can be accredited to the Colobus’ thumb having the appearance of being docked, a characteristic that can be attributed as an arboreal adaptation. The Colobus uses tree branches as trampolines to get around the lush treetop environment in which it delves, and can generate powerful leaps of approximately 50 feet from branch to branch. By falling with outstretched arms and legs wide open, the Colobus hopes that just one limb will be present to grasp on to just one extended branch amongst the many available, lest that monkey fall to an untimely death onto the canopy floor. It is thought that the white mantle hair and tails of the Colobus act as parachutes during these dangerous leaps.

The Colobus Monkeys are known for their great leaping abilites

The Black and White Colobus Moonkey is a diurnal species and spends the majority of its day eating, relaxing, socializing amongst other individuals in the group, all while in the forest canopy. From these treetops, the Colobus are able to extract tender, high-protein leaves that serves as the primary source of calories and nutrients in their diet. The Colobus have cow-like stomachs, with multiple chambers that allow them to digest these leaves, as well as many unripe fruits that other species of monkey are not able to digest. They also extract the majority of their water intake from the top of the dense foliage as well, limiting their ground-interaction.

The Colobus Monkey lives in territorial groups that typically display around 9 members which consists of one alpha male, several adult females, and the young that that particular group raises. To display dominance and warn other groups from invading their territory, the alpha male will let out menacing croaks that resonate surprisingly powerfully throughout the environment. The alpha male will also result to a series of tongue-clicking sounds if a predator does continue to persist, and as a last-ditch attempt the alpha will chase an unwanted predator away, or at least attempt to.

Child-bearing in the Colobus groups displays an allomothering system, in which all adults in the group effectively act as parent to every offspring, regardless of whether it is their own or not. Colobus females have birth intervals that occur at one birth per 20 months. Newborn Colobus monkeys exhibit a pink face with white fur that doesn’t change to its adult coat of black and white until it has reached 3 month’s maturity.

The Black and White Colobus is essentially one of the more-laid back species of monkey, as there is rarely any squabbling or rough-housing observed to be occurring amongst group members.

Because the Colobus monkeys need only a patch of forest to thrive, the species has been able to coexist near populations of humans relatively well as long as clusters of trees remain intact. However, in areas of Tropical Africa, these small forest fragments are disappearing rapidly, and the Colobus are constantly threatened by black market bush hunters as well as the always impending desecration of their forest environment caused by the local logging companies.

At the St. Louis Zoo, there is a family of Colobus Monkeys on full display. On Halloween 2012, the newest member of the Colobus family at the St. Louis Zoo, Kivuli, was born and exhibited all of the white fur and pink face that is characteristic of the Colobus young. Her name, which fits in with her birthdate, and the Swahili word for ‘shadow’. Kivuli is currently being raised by her 14-year old mother Cecelia, and their mother-daughter relationship can be seen on full display throughout the day at the St. Louis Zoo.



Sources:, ,, Continue reading

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The Cotton Top Tamarin


The cotton top tamarin has a shock of white hair that extends from the top of the head.

The cotton top tamarin has a shock of white hair that extends from the top of the head.

Saguinus oedipus, or more commonly known as the cotton top tamarin is a New World primate that belongs to the Callitrichidae family. The cotton top tamarin can be found climbing and jumping through the tree tops of tropical forests in their home country of Columbia in South America. These primates were first described by Linnaeus in 1758.

These punk rock primates are known for the fluffy white hair that grows from the tops of their heads. Each cotton top tamarin has their own unique hair style: short, long, sleek or furry. Approximately the size of a squirrel and weighing less than one pound, the cotton top tamarin is known for being one of the smallest primates. These tamarins along with other members of the Callitrichidae family have sharp nails on all digits except for their big toes. The cotton top tamarin males and females are similar in size and shape, showing that they are not sexually dimorphic.

tamarin tong

Yummy fruit!

The cotton top tamarin is diurnal and spends most of the day searching for food. These arboreal primates have a high- energy diet and explore the trees in hopes of finding insects. Even though they are mostly insectivorous, they also eat fruit, sap, bird eggs, and lizards.

Cotton top tamarins are arboreal and live in family groups.

Cotton top tamarins are arboreal and live in family groups.

Cotton top tamarins live in family groups of 2-12 members in order to protect themselves from predators. At the core of the group is a dominant male and female who are the only members to breed. The female usually gives birth to twins once a year. This monogamous breeding causes the other immigrant adults to become reproductively suppressed. However, members of the group are pro-social and help the dominant couple take care of and raise their young. The big happy family engages in extensive food sharing and caring.

Moreover, the cotton top tamarins vocalize using more than thirty distinct sounds. These vocalizations are bird- like whistles, soft chirping sounds, high pitch trilling, and staccato calls. Research has shown that each call is associated with a different message. The cotton top tamarins talk to each other about food, warnings, locations, and other important issues. Recently, a family of five cotton top tamarins were observed whispering at the Central Park Zoo.


Unfortunately, the cotton top tamarins are classified as one of the most endangered primates in the world. This is because people continue to destroy their habitats and sell them illegally as pets. They are very sensitive to any alteration of their habitat. There are only a couple thousand cotton top tamarins left in the wild which makes them critically endangered. However, the Proyecto Tití is a multidisciplinary group designed to study cotton top tamarins in order to help preserve them. Many zoos have cotton top tamarins and are on board with educating the population about what harmful effects deforestation and the illegal pet market are having on the species livelihood.

Tamara, one of Disney's favorite cotton top tamarin!

Tamara, one of Disney’s favorite cotton top tamarins!  



More specifically, Disney’s Animal Kingdom has two different cotton top tamarin exhibits on site. Tamara, is a spunky adult that Disney has watched grow through the years. She is thirteen years old and has recently given birth to her 12th litter and 22nd infant. Researchers describe her as an energetic, unpredictable, and the exception to the rule. Apparently she has given birth to two sets of twins within one year, which is not normal for cotton top tamarins. Researchers believe she is more fertile than others because she is getting extra food. They have observed her stealing food from other family members. This type of behavior is extremely unusual for cotton top tamarins, however Tamara does not see a problem with it. Disney researchers say she snatches fruit and insects from other members of her family and they seem to tolerate it.

Tamara and one of her babies!

Tamara and one of her babies!


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Tufted Capuchins

Cebus apella of the Cebidae family is better known as the tufted capuchin.  The tufted capuchin is a New World primate located in South America.  Tufted capuchins spend most of their time within the mid-canopy of rain-forests; however they do sometimes move to the ground to play and forage.


The unique tufts of hair above the ears make this capuchin appear as if it is wearing a cap

The tufted capuchin gets its name from the tufts of dark hair that form above its ears, that makes it appear as if it is wearing a cap (or Mickey Mouse ears).  Tufted capuchins are sexually dimorphic, with the average weight of the male being 34% larger than that of the female.  Wild male tufted capuchins have an average weight of 8 lbs, and the average female weighs 5.5 lbs; though captive capuchins can grow larger.  Tufted capuchins move quadrupedally, and have strong prehensile tails.  However, tufted capuchins are the only species of capuchin that carries its tail in a tight coil.  A tufted capuchin rarely uses its tail while traveling, but uses it for balance while it is feeding.

Geographic range of the tufted capuchin

Geographic range of the tufted capuchin

Tufted capuchin females mostly mate with the dominant male.  The dominant male rarely strays away from the group during the last few days of the females estrus cycle; the entire cycle lasts for 21 days.  The pregnancy lasts for five months and the birth of twins is extremely rare.  Females raise the young and the infants cling to the mother’s back.  If an infant does become separated from its mother, other tufted capuchins will respond the the infants distress calls.  Males will leave their group at maturity (7 years); whereas females stay within the group and are considered mature at 4 years of age.

Tufted capuchins hunt for food in groups.  If one of the capuchins finds a food source (and there is enough for more than just one individual) the capuchin will give a whistling call to alert the others so the food can be shared.  The omnivorous capuchins diet can consist of nuts, insects, fruits, flowers, seeds, leaves, and sometimes even frogs.  Tufted capuchins famously use stones to crack open nuts.  Capuchins strip the outer fiber of the nut with their teeth, and will place the nut out in the sun to dry.  Capuchins will then use a stone to repeatedly hammer the nut until it cracks.

Tufted capuchins exhibit some odd behaviors that make them fascinating to learn about.  They often cover their hands and feet in their own urine to attract mates (and possibly to reduce stress).  Tufted capuchins also exhibit extensive tool use.  They will use rocks to dig holes to reach tubers.  In captivity, they will eat fruit over sponges so they can later drink from the sponges.  They use containers to hold water.  Some captive tufted capuchins have even been observed manufacturing tools out of stone, producing simple flakes and cores.  Not all tufted capuchins use tools however.  Some primatologists suggest tool use manifests only when these capuchin groups lack food sources and thus spend lots of time on the ground.

Pixie at the Popcorn Park Zoo

Pixie at the Popcorn Park Zoo

Pixie is a tufted capuchin that is now located in the Popcorn Park Zoo in New Jersey.  A Pennsylvania couple purchased Pixie.  She was well behaved, very sociable, and enjoyed things such as opening the mail and eating sunflower seeds.  However, when Pixie aged into her teens, she began to see her woman owner as a threat and attacked her on several occasions.  At age 21, the couple decided to donate her to Popcorn Park.  Pixie is considered highly socialized, and often shows good manners.  She will return any item she no longer wants to the zookeeper who gave it to her.  She enjoys looking at photographs,and has an extensive vocabulary that allows her to communicate her needs to the zookeepers.  Pixie is now 30 years old.  Captive tufted capuchins typically live into their 40s.

Because of their intelligence, tufted capuchins are popular pets to have across the world.  They are also heavily hunted by humans.  Despite this, tufted capuchins are not endangered, and their status is classified as “of least concern.”  Tufted capuchins can be found at the San Diego Zoo where there is a group of 6 males and 9 females.  These capuchins were previously used in behavioral studies at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center.

Sometimes referred to as "Einstein Monkeys", tufted capuchins are known for their tool use and high intelligence

Sometimes referred to as “Einstein Monkeys”, tufted capuchins are known for their tool use and intelligence


Sources: , , , , , , 

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