Most mammals, including primates, pass through three stages--infant, juvenile and adult. Here are so"/>
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The Inner Monkey


Most mammals, including primates, pass through three stages--infant, juvenile and adult. Here are some general ways in which most nonhuman primates species--capuchins (Cebus), spiders (Ateles), macaques (Macaca), and so on, change as they grow and develop:

INFANCY--In infancy primates are helpless and therefore dependent on someone else for survival. They require round-the-clock care by their own mother or a human surrogate and generally have compliant attitudes for the first several months. As monkeys grow, they start gaining independence, similar to other growing mammals or to a human toddler. They need to experiment and investigate the world around them and will usually begin to push away a helping hand.

JUVENILES--With adult life on the horizon, the juvenile stage is a preparatory one. Play-fighting and play-mating are two typical behaviors. A juvenile female may carry another monkey's infant in a colony, or carry a stuffed toy in captivity as a practice infant. This is the ideal time for monkeys to learn their status or place in the social hierarchy Play is a good testing ground, especially for juveniles, and monkeys can become rougher in their play with you as they grow.

Many primates have a natural desire to dominate, and some have a stronger tendency in this regard than others as they mature. A monkey may bite simply as an easy way to say "no" to someone or something, but it is not always easy to determine the reason why a monkey has bitten. At the same time a monkey may become more aggressive from time to time, he may also be developing a more gentle, loving, sensitive and responsive side to his personality. Also, as juveniles mature, the bond between mother or parent and child weakens. This varies in human relationships with hand-raised monkeys. Some monkeys remain more affectionate and attached than others.

ADULTS--Increased strength comes as capuchins, spider monkeys, macaques and larger monkeys mature. (By comparison, strength is not significant in small nonhuman primates like bushbabies, marmosets and squirrel monkeys.) Along with maturation comes the cunning and ability to manipulate their environment, unlock or open heavy doors, take their waist belts off, get into the refrigerator, open or even break windows and numerous other abilities and scenarios. You will probably not know a monkey has developed the ability to do something, until her or she surprises you by doing it. For example, an adult spider monkey (Ateles) can drag a couch or a picnic table with his or her tail and one macaque was strong enough to pull the hair right out of his owner's head when she chastised him for breaking eggs. The transition to adulthood takes longer in some species than others. Here are some behaviors found in wild-living adult monkeys, which we can see duplicated or find some variations in pet monkeys: Touching, hugging, affectionate leaning or snuggling, mouthing, lip-smacking, vocalizing, greeting, sexual mounting, sexual activity, sexual displays, mothering or parenting behavior, urine scenting, dominant or possessive or protective behaviors, grooming, aggressive displays or threats, biting, pinching, hair pulling, intimidation, aggressive or play chasing, temporary social alliances, long-term social alliances and so on. Here are a few courses taken by monkey owners, as they deal with maturing monkey:

  • Owner becomes discourage and handles monkey less often.

  • The above, and owner decides to find monkey one or more simian companions, and to keep as colony monkeys with minimal human interaction.

  • Becomes discouraged, usually over aggression or inability to handle monkey and decides to give monkey up to a new home or sell monkey as a breeder.

  • In order to maintain contact relationship with monkey and to lesson the danger of monkey's bite, reduces or alters monkey's canine teeth.

  • With or without canine reduction, the owner proceeds to give monkey time and attention and to make compromises in order to try to work through monkey's stages.

More often than not, the success of longtime monkey keepers seems to be in the development of an attitude of tolerance toward nonhuman primate behavior, including aggression.

One seasoned monkey owner with a positive attitude says, "From my elbows to my hands, I am covered with little scars, the work of monkey hands and teeth, some done in rough play and others in aggression. But even the scars are dear to me, made by the monkeys I have loved....." Monkeys and their personalities are individual, just as the personalities of their owners are. There is no blueprint for sharing your life with a monkey, but here are some techniques for working with some primate behaviors. These will probably work best on monkeys kept from juvenile age or younger and are offered as suggestions that will work with varying success, depending on the monkey and surrounding circumstances.

As a general guideline, use language and develop trust. Again, the better your relationship at every stage, generally the easier it will be to get through the harder "teenage" and early adult stages.

  • Develop a full range of communication, affection, reasoning, compromise and firmness.

  • Develop trust by being consistent.

  • Most long time monkey owners believe that monkeys in their care benefit from having a strong human bond, even when they are kept in pairs. Especially with monkeys raised as single household pets the stronger the monkey's bond is with a human caretaker at every stage, generally the better the chance for working through a monkey's growing maturation and personality stages. Help develop a bond by creating a history of positive shared activities, eating sleeping and playing together.

  • Start working on trades and rewards. First, teach the monkey to give you her hand, so that you can lead her someplace. Give her a reward hug, praise and a treat. Then if she ever gets loose, you may be able to use this to help get her to cooperate and come back.

  • Kind limit setting is required on the part of the monkey owner, and is necessary in forming a workable relationship with a monkey. Teach your monkey to understand the word "No". Say "no" to rough play bite, for example, then stop play, but remember that a flexible attitude is important. A monkey's behavior cannot always be manipulated or controlled.

  • Try leaving something out which a monkey shouldn't have. When monkey picks it up, say "No" firmly. Ask to trade for treat, such as mealworms, cashew nuts, grapes or whatever is favorite food. Try to set some type of food aside to use for rewards.

  • Set aside a time each evening to reflect on the days interaction and try to gain insight into your individual monkey's personality. Once a certain stage of testing dominance has passed, and you are generally accepted as "dominate but fair", most monkeys slowly begin to mellow, testing less and less often. This is not an overnight process but one that could take place over several years' time or more. Author and veteran capuchin owner Richard Savage agrees that you can come out on the other side of a monkey's development stages of behavior, and that "you can develop a relationship based on respecting the monkey's limits. You have to know the monkey and develop a sensitivity to his or her likes, dislikes and moods." Richard says it took him 12 years to get where he is with his favorite adult female capuchin, Sunday. "Even then sometimes she reaches her limit, and I have to quickly back away and dash for the Creamora" (Sunday gets one handful as a reward for not biting.)....

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