Primates are a diverse group of apes, prosimians and monkeys, totalling about 200 species. Primates from Africa consist of chimpanzees, gorillas, bushbabies, lemurs and a variety of monkeys. The Zoo also houses primates from South America and South East Asia.
Many primates have an opposable thumb, which enables them to hold objects the way humans do. Most primates occur in the tropical areas of the world. They are very dexterous and usually adapted for life in trees. Unfortunately, this means that they are often under threat from habitat destruction from mining, logging and crop monoculture. Many primate species are considered to be endangered or vulnerable and we should all bring to people’s attention the reasons for their declining status and what we can do to lessen these threats.
Apes include gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, orang-utans and humans, which are known as Great Apes and Gibbons, known as Lesser Apes. The zoo houses Buff cheeked gibbons, lar gibbons and Siamang gibbons. These are the largest of all primates and don’t have tails. Most apes are vegetarian, eating leaves, fruit and roots. Chimpanzees include meat in their diet occasionally. Apes are the closest relatives to human beings; some of them even use primitive tools to gather food. A family group of chimpanzees and our two orang-utans ( no orang-utans at the zoo) live in the Ape House in the Zoo, while the gorilla enclosure is shared with blue duikers and birds.
It is best to view the apes from 10h00 when they are let outdoors after cleaning time. All the other species are usually always on view. Only the great apes go inside their night-rooms in the afternoons. Please do not feed any of our animals. Primates are particularly susceptible to human illnesses and are on strictly controlled diets to prevent diseases such as diabetes.
Prosimians are a more primitive primate group and include the lemurs of Madagascar and the bushbabies of Africa. Lemurs occur only in Madagascar and the name means ‘spirits of the night’ or ‘ghost’. Ring-tailed, Black and white ruffed, Red-bellied, crowned lemur and Mongoose lemurs are on display in the Zoo. They have a dental comb (modified front teeth) for grooming each other, which reinforces their family bond. When visiting the Zoo, you may hear loud barking noises that sound as if there is a huge fight, but this is normal black and white ruffed lemur family communication and is also used for dominance displays. The typical lemur eats a wide variety of fruits and leaves. They are threatened by habitat destruction and capture for the illegal animal trade.
Galagoes or bushbabies are generally smaller than lemurs and have large eyes. They are nocturnal and arboreal. There are three (two) species of bushbaby in South Africa: the Thick-tailed bush-baby is the largest. They live in small groups, feeding on wild fruits, tree gum, insects and occasionally on reptiles and birds. The Lesser bushbaby is agile, easily leaping from branch to branch. They feed on tree gum, fruit and insects.
This large group is split into Old World and New World monkeys:
Old World monkeys come from Africa and Asia and include baboons, macaques and langurs. These animals, especially baboons, have a dog-like muzzle and well-developed sense of smell and their limbs are well-adapted for walking on the ground. Baboons in the Zoo are represented by Chacma, Yellow and Hamadryas baboons, while the similar but distinct drills are represented by Mandrills. Baboons are tough, active, gregarious, noisy and curious. Drills and baboons are some of the largest of monkeys. Mandrills occur in West-Central Africa and are often found on forest floors beneath the tree canopy. They eat insects, fruit, seeds, roots, fungi and small vertebrates. Males are easily recognisable by their bright red, blue and yellow face. They do not have prehensile tails.
Guenons (Cercopithecus species) are widespread throughout Africa. The Zoo houses a number of these beautiful animals, such as the De Brazza’s monkey, Diana monkey, Red-tailed guenons, Black mangaby, mona monkey, Black and white colobus and L’Hoest’s monkeys, which are all very attractive and can be seen near the Ape House.
New World Monkeys are from South America and can be distinguished by their flatter noses, digits that end in curved claws (except for the 1st toe that has a flat nail) to enable them to run up the sheer sides of huge trees in the forest. The elegant Black Spider monkey found in the Amazonia Area in the Zoo represents this group. These monkeys have black hair and live in large territorial troops, each occupying 150 - 250 hectares. They eat fruit, berries, flowers, leaves, termites and honey. They have a prehensile tail that acts almost like an extra hand. The tiny Emperor tamarins can be seen nearby. These small primates are easy to identify by their extraordinary white moustaches. They almost always have two babies that are carried by the father, except during feeding time.