Friday, July 22, 2011

My Favorite Monkey

I realized the other day that I have not written a single post about monkeys.  Which is shocking, considering how much I like them.  And after all, the blog is titled Chimp With Pencil.  (Yes, chimpanzees are apes, but let's not get too technical.)

So today let's talk about my favorite monkey, the Capuchin.  The Capuchin (Cebus capucinus) is an amazing little New World monkey found in Central and South America.  It gets its name because the dark fur around its head resembles the cowl Franciscan monks wear.  And like the monks, the Capuchin is very smart.  It has the largest brain of the New World monkeys, and opposable thumbs give it human-like hands.

Capuchins live in groups of up to 30 and are active during the day, traveling about 1.5 miles (or 2.5 kilometers) through the forest to find fruit, nuts, insects, frogs and even birds.  These monkeys weigh from 3 to 9 pounds (1.36 - 4.9 kilograms) and have a partially prehensile tail, meaning they have limited control over curling their tail.  Their main threats are loss of habitat, hunting, jaguars and birds of prey. 

On the otherwise informative Rainforest Alliance website their list of threats includes the use of Capuchins as helpers for paralyzed people.  This makes no sense.  Using these monkeys as helpers is not the same as deforestation or hungry jaguars.

Since 1979, the Helping Hands organization has trained Capuchin monkeys to assist paralyzed and mobility-impaired people.  While originally from South America, the monkeys now come from a captive breeding program in Massachusetts.  These monkeys can live with their human partners for many years, and are trained to do everything from flip light switches to turn on a computer.  They provide companionship like a dog, but they can climb and grip things a dog cannot.

So while issues like unsustainable logging in the Amazon jungle may seem far away to many of us, think of the impact this has on these fascinating creatures, and on the people who rely on them for help.

(Animal Portal has a good overview of the Capuchin.  And you can visit the Helping Hands site for pictures and video of monkey helpers.  The pic above is from:


  1. Hi there! I loved this post on capuchins and learned a lot about them by watching the Helping Hands videos on You Tube. I can't believe some people think that using them as helpers for the paralyzed actually threatens their existence. Some folks sure do have funny ideas these days!

  2. Thanks for commenting, Elaine. I've been meaning to write about this program for some time because I think it's really neat. It's a great example of how humans and animals can coexist and even work together.