Monkeys seem to be a lot like us. They are curious. They show their feelings on their faces. And they have two arms and two legs, 10 fingers and 10 toes, and human-looking eyes and ears.
This is not too surprising, because people and monkeys are both primates.
Scientists divide monkeys into two groups — Old World and New World monkeys.
New World monkeys live in Central and South America. They are known for having prehensile tails, which can grasp branches like a third hand. Old World monkeys in Africa and Asia do not have prehensile tails; instead, they are recognised by their smaller, more closely placed nostrils, and some of them have callouses on their back ends like built-in seat cushions.
Most monkeys are plant eaters. Baboons, however, will occasionally eat meat. When the opportunity presents itself, they will steal away the infant of a chimpanzee or other animal and feast upon it. Although extremely social, baboons do not appear to premeditate hunts as lions or wild dogs do.
Different species of monkeys eat different foods. Douc langurs eat leaves and other plant parts as their main diet. However, they also like fruits, flowers, seeds, and insects. Mandrills have been known to dine not only on fruit and flowers, but on leaves, bark, grass, bulbs, insects, bird eggs, and lizards.
Very few species eat meat, but baboons will hunt the infants of larger animals if an easy opportunity arises.
Though quite helpless in other ways, a young monkey is born with the ability to cling to its mother with its hands and feet. Being able to cling is important for a baby whose mother is using her own hands and feet to get around in the trees! Monkey offspring have long childhoods — sometimes lasting up to three years. When they are very young, the babies stay close to their mothers. Their mothers may even grab their tails to keep them from straying too far and getting into trouble.
As the babies grow older, they begin to play with other young monkeys. By playing together, monkeys learn how to live in a group and develop physical skills that will be important to their lives on the ground and in the trees.
Different monkeys are found in Central and South America, Asia, Africa, and Europe. Some cultures worship monkeys. Until recently, people in India let them live on the grounds of their temples, pick fruit from their gardens, and even eat from their tables. But today, more and
more people consider the monkeys to be pests. Occasionally scores of them will be rounded up and loaded into train boxcars — and released miles away.
In places where monkeys are worshipped, there is no danger of extinction. But in much of the world, monkey habitat is disappearing quickly. And even though special land has been set aside for monkeys in many parts of Africa and Asia, this is only the first step toward saving them. Some monkeys are hunted for their fur and meat. Others are killed because people use the stones in their stomachs as medicine. Sometimes farmers kill them for raiding crops. Whatever the difficulties, the key to monkey survival is twofold: preserving monkey habitat and viewing monkeys as animals rather than resources.