Let's face it, monkeys are fascinating to watch. Playful, dexterous and intelligent, one can't help but marvel at how many similarities we
have with our cousin species.
At the Pueblo Zoo, guests spend hours watching the family of five squirrel monkeys jump, swing, eat, mimic, play and do some things better not put in print. Filbert, Pistachio, Brazil (all nuts), Damian and Isabel are a delight to watch, if not a bit messy to care for. As with most monkeys, they rank right up there with toddlers in mischievousness and messiness. But squirrel monkeys are also one of the most intelligent primates, and they have the largest brain-to-body ratio.
Squirrel monkeys are New World monkeys. This does not necessarily mean that they are more hip, stylish or well informed than Old World monkeys, but rather that they evolved in a different way.
Just as humans migrated and evolved into different races with different physical traits suited to their environment, some anthropoids migrated to South America about 30 million years ago and evolved in isolation. About 25 million years ago, the African anthropoids split again into two lineages -- Old World monkeys and hominoids (apes, humans and direct ancestors). Old World monkeys are more directly related to humans. One way to tell an ape (a hominoid) from a New World monkey is the lack of a tail. (Picture the zoo's two gibbons, Rocket and Suzie.)
As for the comparisons between new and old world monkeys, there are several key comparisons. New World monkeys live primarily in South America, have flat noses with nostrils on the sides, 12 premolars, no sitting pads, no opposable thumbs and prehensile tails. Except, that is, for squirrel monkeys. They are an exception, and their tails do not grip onto branches but rather are used for balance.
In contrast, Old World monkeys live in Africa and Asia, have a raised nose with downward facing nostrils, 8 premolars, sitting pads, opposable thumbs (like humans) and non-prehensile tails.
Soon, guests to the Pueblo Zoo will be able to make direct comparisons between New World monkeys such as squirrel monkeys (in Islands of Life) and tamarin monkeys (when the Rainforest exhibit opens in early 2018), lesser apes like the gibbons and Old World monkeys. A capital campaign called Mission Monkeys is underway to bring Old World DeBrazza's monkeys to the newly constructed African dog exhibit area. At that time you will be able to compare all categories of monkeys and apes to the human primate you see in the mirror or brought to the zoo with you.