Primatology (Primate Animals)

Learn about monkeys, apes and other primates. This comprehensive course will teach you all about the taxonomy, biology and management of primate animals both in captivity and the wild.

Course Code: BEN210
Fee Code: S3
Duration (approx) Duration (approx) 100 hours
Qualification Statement of Attainment
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Learn about the taxonomy, biology and management of primate animals
... both in captivity and the wild.
 
 
  • differences between species of primates and the characteristics of each. 
  • nutritional, physical and psychological needs for keeping primates healthy in captivity and the wild. 
  • how to manage and breed primates in captivity and learning about conversation of primates in the wild.
 Apes, monkeys, lemurs and other primates are complex animals. They are widely studied both for conservation purposes, and also because what we learn about primates can often provide insights into human biology (because of the close genetic similarities).

Lesson Structure

There are 10 lessons in this course:

  1. Introduction to Primates –scope, nature, anatomy & physiology, evolution and taxonomy
    • Order Primates
    • Distinguishing Characteristics of Primates
    • Taxonomy of Primates
    • New World and Old World Monkeys
    • Anatomy and Physiology
  2. The Strepsirhines
    • Family Daubentoniidae
    • Family Lorisidae (or Loridae)
    • Family Galagidae (syn. Galagonidae)
    • Family Lemuridae
    • Extinct Families
    • Examples Of Living Groups
  3. The Haplorhines
    • Family Cebidae
    • Family Tarsiidae
    • Family Callitrichidae
    • Family Atelidae
    • Family Cercopithecidae
    • Family Hylobatidae
    • Family Pongidae
    • Family Hominidae
    • Tarsiers
    • Baboons
    • Drills
    • Macaques
    • Mangabey Monkeys
    • Vervet Monkeys
    • Marmosets
    • Capuchins
    • True Spider Monkeys
    • Guenon Monkeys
    • Patas Monkeys
  4. Diet and Nutrition re environment feed and supplements in a nature park environment
    • Nutritional Requirements of Primates
    • Physiological Adaptations to Different Diets
  5. Health - Illness Pests and diseases specific to above
    • Exercise
    • Observation and Assessment of Health or Condition
    • Common Illnesses
    • Pathogenic
    • Disease and Primate Conservation
    • First Aid on Humans Exposed to NHP Injuries or Body Fluids
  6. Primate Behaviour in the Wild
    • Social Behaviour
    • Social Group Composition
    • What are the benefits of living in groups for primates?
    • Physical Environment
    • Communication
    • Behaviours
  7. Psychological Wellbeing in Primates in Captivity
    • Recognising Abnormal Behaviour
    • The Primate as a Pet
    • Social Deprivation and Primates
    • Abnormal Behaviour in Captivity
    • Self-Harm in Primates in Captivity
    • Foraging For Food
    • Managing Boredom
    • Learning and Training Primates
    • Handling Primates
    • Sedation
  8. Breeding programmes and optimum resources needed for this
    • Primate Groups
    • Gregarious Primates
    • Fertility and Reproduction
    • Breeding and Conceiving
    • Pregnancy and Birth
  9. Conservation in the wild -of individual breeds?
    • Conservation Status of Primate Species
    • Susceptibility to Extinction
    • Unique Problems
    • What Animals are most Endangered?
    • Recovery Programmes
  10. Managing primates in Captivity
    • Primates in captivity
    • Enclosure Design
    • Transporting Primates
    • Reasons and Ethics of Keeping Primates in Captivity
    • Risks Working With Primates

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.

Aims

  • To understand the taxonomy, biology and management of primate animals both in captivity and the wild.
  • Discuss the nature and scope of our knowledge of primate animals.
  • Describe a variety of different species from the suborder Strepsirhini.
  • Describe a variety of different species from the suborder Haplorhini.
  • Explain the dietary requirements for different primates.
  • Explain the management of the physical wellbeing of primates.
  • Explain the psychology of primates and their natural behaviour.
  • Explain the management of the psychological wellbeing of primates in captivity.
  • Explain breeding programmes for managing the conservation of primates.
    • Explain the conservation of a range of primates.
  • Explain the management of primates in captivity.

WHAT ARE PRIMATES?

Primates are a diverse group, and are one of the oldest orders of mammals. They include prosimians, monkeys, apes and humans.

Primates evolved from small arboreal (tree dwellers) ancestors. The fact that most primates remained in trees as the many species evolved is thought to have kept them from danger. Trees offer protection from predators; and also trees provide a reliable source of food (vegetation, insects, etc). Primates that are ground dwelling now are big sized species or man.

In order to stop them from falling, arboreal primates evolved hands, rather than claws as in other arboreal animals, that can grasp branches firmly. This adaptation had a secondary value, allowing primates the ability to hold and manipulate objects more precisely than other animals.

With more useable hands, primates were better able to jump from branch to branch. To jump more effectively, primates would then need better eyesight; a better sense of touch; and greater intelligence to make faster decisions as they moved through the trees.

Distinguishing Characteristics of Primates:
  • They possess a large brain relative to body size. The cerebral cortex (neocortex) which is responsible for such processes as memory, language, consciousness and attention is particularly large.
  • The middle ear is enclosed by a skeleton (petrosal bulla)
  • Usually only two mammary glands.
  • Primates usually only have one baby per pregnancy. They also have a slower rate of development, late sexual maturity and longer lives.
  • Tendency to hold the body trunk upright, leading to some being bipedal in movement (walking on hind legs) eg. Humans, gorillas.
  • A clavicle or collar bone which is an important component of the shoulder. The presence of a clavicle allows primates to hang from one arm, an ability used by primates such as gibbons to travel from tree to tree.
  • Sexual dimorphism in body mass and the size of the canine teeth.
  • Presence of shoulder joint and elbow joint (allows more flexible movement of limbs)
  • Commonly five useable digits on all four limbs; and enhanced digital dexterity along with opposable thumbs, which assists with grasping objects.
  • Claws have been replaced by flattened nails made of keratin on at least one digit.
  • Sensitive ends to the digits
  • Fewer teeth than more primitive mammals. The cheek teeth are bunodont (low and rounded) and brachyodont (unusually short), with 4 cusps, adapted mainly for grinding and occasional shearing.
  • Jaws that move vertically mainly, with limited horizontal movement, in contrast to other mammals
  • Complex eye sight, forward-facing eyes which provide binocular vision. This allows primates to better perceive distances, move through trees and handle food.
  • The eye socket is also backed up by a superior back bone (postorbital bar)
  • Smaller nose than many other mammals, as they rely more on sight than smell. Consequently the olfactory brain areas (olfactory lobes) are reduced.
  • Tails are absent in apes and humans, but present in some species such as the monkeys and lemurs. The tail in these species provides balance when moving through trees.
 
Working With Primates

People come to work with primates in many different ways. Formal studies can certainly help; but you cannot guarantee a career with primates by simply doing the right course. Some primate experts started out volunteering at zoos, reserves or wildlife parks, and some may have been employed as a "general" animal attendant; developing specialised knowledge and experience about primates over time, that eventually made them into a serious contender for a good job with primates.
Top level primate scientists will have often studied at university; but such jobs are highly competitive, and difficult to get unless you have considerably more than just a formal study program.

 People work with primates in lots of different situations, for example:

  • Caring for animals in captivity, in zoos or wildlife parks
  • Conservation and breeding work 
  • Veterinary and animal health care (eg. veterinary assistants, zoo keepers).
  • Pet industries (Some primates are legally kept as pets in some countries).
  • Rangers and tour guides in ecotourism, wilderness reserves, etc
  • Breeding and caring for animals in research facilities. Some such jobs can be ethically questionable; nevertheless do exist. Research can be as varied as researching behaviour and psychology, to pharmaceutical and product testing.
  • Media (eg. nature photography, making documentaries, writing books and articles)

WHERE TO START?
If you have a passion for working with primates, start by both doing this course, and volunteering.

  • The course will give you the basic knowledge you need to start building a better understanding of primates

  • Volunteering opportunities can often be found through the internet. Zoos all over the world have opportunities for volunteers. Sometimes you may need to start with different animals; but experience with a different animal can often open up opportunities to work with primates.  If your passion is strong enough; be prepared to travel in order to get experience. Working as a volunteer for a month in Africa may make a difference if you apply for a job at a zoo, closer to home.

 

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Course Contributors

The following academics were involved in the development and/or updating of this course.

Dr Robert Browne

Zoologist, Environmental Scientist and Sustainability, science based consultancy with biotechnology corporations. Work focused on conservation and sustainability.
Robert has published work in the fields of nutrition, pathology, larval growth and develop

Dr. Gareth Pearce

Veterinary scientist and surgeon with expertise in agriculture and environmental science, with over 25 years of experience in teaching and research in agriculture, veterinary medicine, wildlife ecology and conservation in the UK, Australia and New Zealand





Tutors

Meet some of the tutors that guide the students through this course.

Michael Brugman

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Timothy Walker

B.A.(Botany), RHS.M. Hort., Post.Grad.Dip.Ed.

Timothy is a Botanist, Horticulturist and Gardener. He is an Author, and also a lecturer at Somerville College, Oxford. After training at a number of gardens including Windsor Great Park and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Timothy commenced work at Oxford Botanic Gardens in 1986. Appointed as "Horti Praefectus" (Superintendent/Director) there in 1988, he held that position until 2014. Under Timothy's watch, the garden won four gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show, and developed 67 acres of MG5 wild flower meadow at the Harcourt Arboretum; a UK threatened habitat. Timothy remains an active practical gardener as well as a highly respected international academic in the fields of horticulture and plant botany.

Jon-Paul Dunne

I am a Bioscience postgraduate researcher at Durham university. I have a degree in environmental science and a permaculture design certificate as well as extensive experience in landscape and habitat restoration as well as sustainable food production and self-sufficiency. My key areas of expertise are climate change's causes, impacts and solutions, as well as ecological principles and design.

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