Saturday, September 5, 2009

Monkey See Monkey Do

Does it bother you if somebody refers to a chimpanzee as a monkey? It irks me. And it’s done all the time. I’m not always sure if it’s intentionally, but I take it personally. Primatologically speaking, they are close relatives. The Old World monkeys are closer related to chimps. Baboons and the Barbary ape, for example which are both monkeys, do not have tails and neither does the chimp. They are from different families, genus, species, and so on. It gets a bit confusing, but what is simple? New World monkeys have prehensile tails that are used for hanging and swinging around.

One reason I suspect people call chimps monkeys is because the word monkey is apparently funny. This might ring a bell from the television programs, movies, and even magazines. I once wrote a letter to the editor at Details magazine to make a stink about their referring to a baboon as an ape which they are not, but they didn’t bother to print my quibble.

When we poke our heads in at the zoo I’d like to think our hairier cousins are having a bit of a laugh at us, especially at parents who tell their kids “Look, there’s a monkey” – when in fact its Pan troglodytes, the common chimp they are looking at. Maybe this is what prompts a chimp to spit out at the gawkers or let out lengthy, but syncopated pant hoot.

They know sign language, at least have the ability to learn the skill, they are very emotional, and if you looked up documented studies on them you would see they have had incidents of kidnapping, warfare, and rape. Bonobo chimps, Pan paniscus, the more gracile, more evolved version of the common chimp tends to walk around bipedally for shorts stretches. They are experts in foreplay and have quite a sexual repertoire. With all these distinguishing characteristics you’d think these dumbbells who gape at them all the time would want to pay their respects by calling them what they are— remarkable.

I’m not saying I want to be a chimp in the afterlife. I think maybe a rock star. I haven’t given it too much thought lately, but I have taken it upon myself to stand in as the good-natured informer.

Termite-eater doesn’t roll off your tongue, but it does underscore a favorite snack choice of the African ape. In fact, they make a tool to acquire their tasty treats removing all the leaves from a branch and dig their awl into the rotted bark of the tree and pull out the goodies. Yum. They suck’m down like Gummy Bears.
I propose Primate Awareness Day. This way all the apes, monkeys, prosimians, and so-called educated apes (Homo sapiens), can have a meeting of the minds. Long drawn-out conversations on world peace, global poverty, poaching, and primate trafficking would be optional. Mainly, everybody’s voice should be heard to prevent future misunderstanding.

Order in the court I say— that category sandwiched between class and family. Who knows how long we are going to be on this planet? Forever how long that might be we owe it to ourselves to get along. We wouldn’t want things to digress to the point of a Planet of the Apes situation, no matter how much we may have enjoyed seeing Charlton Heston tortured by the gorillas.

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