The TMSE Anthropology class has been a lot of fun so far this year. We’re following essentially the same lesson plan with a few improvements (we hope) here & there. One of them was designed by graduate students in the UA Anthro Dept who kindly posted them to their blog here. The game is called the “Meddling Monkeys Scavenger Hunt.” The objective is to recognize that primate behavior (& we are primates, so this applies to us too) is ecologically relative.
We started off talking about the kind of food primates have to choose from. We had dry roasted crickets, garden herbs, & one banana. Crickets are high protein but hard to catch, so getting enough to survive on is tough unless you’re small, quick, & have a high metabolism. Garden herbs might be tasty, but some of them (lemongrass) will tear up your mouth, while others (rosemary) are rather tough on the teeth. Otherwise, you would need a tremendous amount to survive on & probably some specialized guts like cows (or colobus monkeys, gorillas, & howler monkeys, in the case of primates) to maximize digestion. Of course, all the kids wanted the banana, but how many 7-10 year olds can we feed on one banana (which, in the wild type, look very little like our large yummy domesticates)? And in all fairness, the class this semester is about the size of a monkey troop. I asked them, what is the advantage of living in a group this size? And they nailed the answer–more eyes to look out for predators & protect each other. What are the disadvantages? They nailed that too–you have to find food for all of them (& only one ripe banana?! who gets it?), & you have to put up with all of them! Hmm…a lot like a human kid classroom! So while a number of the kids braved cricket feet in their teeth & lived on the wild side, most opted for the leaves, & stayed hungry.
Good, because “Meddling Monkeys” is all about eating. There were three troops–a colobus troop, a guenon troop, & a bunch of rowdy chimps. Colobus monkeys are leaf-eaters (largely), while guenons are “cheek-pouch” monkeys who prefer fruit & insects but are a bit more opportunistic. Chimps are the danger variable, as they like fruit & insects but guess what else? Monkey meat! Given what we know about leaves, insects, & fruit, finding ripe fruit is rare but worth the most points, while insects are hard to catch but give the second most points/nutrients, whereas leaves are everywhere but have low points. The purpose for the colobus & guenon troops was to collect as many nutrients for themselves & their babies as possible while guarding against marauding chimps, who steal food & eat babies (losing a baby costs 7 points)!
It’s all fun & games until a marauding chimp eats your baby! Oh no! And those meddling monkeys stole my food!! The guenons were the ultimate winners of this year’s round, as they had some great nest guards who kept most of the babies safe. The colobus monkeys came in second but lost all their babies. The chimps did what chimps do but lost points for cheating by stealing food after the game was over. Chimps are pretty aggressive in the wild too. Don’t keep chimps for pets either! They are wild animals & deserve distant respect.
Seriously, while colobus monkeys & guenons are not currently in jeopardy (& a new guenon species was just identified), chimps are our closest living relatives, sharing 98% of our DNA. However, it has been projected that chimps will be extinct in the wild in our lifetimes (that’s MY lifetime, a 40-something-year-old, not to mention the lives of our kids). To continue to learn about our own history & behavior by studying chimps, we need to work hard to protect them. A recent law was fortunately passed that now prohibits all invasive medical experimentation with chimps.
So protect those marauding chimps & watch out for those meddling monkeys (but protect them too)!