Monkeys May be Our Biological Relatives But Can They Really Befriend Us?

Khryss | Published 2017-12-23 05:47

Should we be inspired by Tarzan's story?

In a small village in southeast India, a child has allegedly "befriended" a troop of monkeys. A year old boy, as you can see in the video, is poking and prodding a group of gray langurs. He even tugs their tails from time to time and play chase with him as if they're all human children in a rough housing.

But is it truly an act of friendship? Can people actually form strong bonds with our wild cousins? Let's ask the experts

"The reality is that these animals are very opportunistic," said Luisa Arnedo, a senior programs officer for the National Geographic Society, who earned her PhD studying primates. Thing is, though monkeys are distant biological relatives, they could've not seen us as such. Humans usually carry foods as they approach monkeys.

"Friendships and collaborations are important for the group to survive," she said. "In macaques [for example] it's not uncommon to adopt an infant," said Augustin Fuentes, an anthropologist at the University of Notre Dame.

"I'm going to go out on a limb and say yes, it's possible, but it's extremely rare," said Fuentes. Helping a stranger, he said, "is a distinctly human thing. This is something that separates humans from everything else."

"If you spend enough time with them, it feels like you're part of a group," said Arnedo, but she quickly noted that, primates are shaped by environmental factors and individual personalities. So, those who live in a poaching-free places may be more friendly than those who've constantly seen hunting and hostilities.

So, "befriending" a monkey is most like up to the food you provide them. Also, being smaller could help as you'll be perceived less intimidating, though Fuentes acknowledged that some primates can typically get human differences.

"We know monkeys can tell males from females, children from adults. We even think in some places they can tell nationality," he said. "Monkeys are hip to that."

WARNING: Under no circumstance should an untrained professional approach a wild monkey.

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