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Scientists call them primates, but to the rest of us, they’re monkeys, gorillas, chimpanzees and apes. Each subspecies has distinctive characteristics that set them apart.

• The easiest way to tell the difference between a monkey and an ape is to look for a tail. Monkeys have them, apes don’t. So even though many people refer to chimpanzees as “monkeys,” that description is incorrect. Chimps are part of the same family as gorillas and orangutans, which makes them apes.

• Watch a monkey at play, and you’ll notice that he uses his arms, legs and tail to swing and jump and maneuver through the trees. Apes have extremely flexible and mobile shoulder joints, and their arms are often twice as long as their legs. Monkeys generally have claws, while apes have flat fingernails, similar to those of humans.

• Very little was known about chimpanzees in their natural habitat until Jane Goodall began her 30-year study of them in Tanzania in 1960. Dr. Goodall learned, for example, that chimps use tools, not unlike humans. To help themselves to a yummy banquet of termites (one of their favorite treats), a chimp will use a blade of grass or a twig to fish them out of hiding.

• Chimpanzees learn a lot about tool use and other survival techniques from their mothers. Unlike most other mammals, baby chimps are cared for by their mothers for an extended period of time, up to eight years. Mother chimps have been observed teaching their children how to develop a “plan” – if one rock doesn’t crack a nut open after a few tries, discard it and try a larger one.

• It was originally thought that only the smaller apes used tools until Dian Fossey observed gorillas smashing palm nuts between two rocks. This “hammer and anvil” technique is considered a highly complex behavior.

• Even more amazingly, gorillas have been observed using tools for activities not directly related to acquiring or eating food. Some have been observed using a stick to test the depth of a river, and then placing a log across the water in order to cross. Others have been seen using branches to support themselves while standing up and as walking sticks.

• Orangutans are highly intelligent. In one remarkable experiment, researchers hid a juicy peach (a favorite of the ape) in a box that was held shut with several different clasps. The orangutan pounded on the box for just a few minutes, then, realizing that wasn’t working, proceeded to study and then carefully unfasten the various clasps.

• Chimpanzees do not make good pets. The trained chimps we see in shows and on TV have usually been taken away from their mothers at a young age so that they can be trained. When they reach a certain age, they are much stronger than a human and become dangerous. At that point, the trained chimp is usually relinquished to a zoo or roadside show. They may be cute and entertaining, but the old adage holds true: Wild animals belong in the wild.

• Service monkeys are an exception to the “wild animals as pets” rule. Capuchin monkeys are specially bred and trained to help people with spinal cord injuries with every day tasks. Helping Hands, the organization that places the monkeys, makes sure monkeys are treated humanely and that their new owners are well-versed in the care of their new assistants.

• Helping Hands monkeys do everything from turning the pages of books, to operating a microwave, to retrieving the TV remote control. Technology has forced the trainers to teach the monkeys new skills, however; instead of having to learn how to place a record on a phonograph, today’s monkeys are learning how to insert a CD-ROM into a computer.








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