Human Counterparts

Human Counterparts

The use of trickery is not an exclusively human trait; it is also common among other primates. How remarkable to see a limited capacity for communication coupled with a skimpy supply of egotism, insight, and intelligence leading directly to the phenomena of deceit, trickery, and other human frailties. Monkeys and apes provide sterling examples of such behavior. Consider, for instance, the ruse of an ingenious rhesus monkey in New York's Bronx Zoo.

One day this devious monkey simply vanished from its large, rocky primate enclosure. After several days it was recaptured in the nearby park. Keepers carefully checked the fence, the moat, and the rest of the installation for any escape routes. None were found, but the next morning the runaway had disappeared again.

Keepers captured it with no difficulty. This time, after the monkey was returned to its compound, an attendant was assigned to hide nearby and observe the escape artist in action. At daybreak the attendant saw the animal retrieve a banana from a well—concealed hiding place. Apparently the monkey had deliberately saved this fruit as part of an escape plan. With banana in hand, it ran to the broad moat that separated its enclosure from that of its neighbor, a large bull moose. The monkey swung the banana back and forth in short, deliberate sweeps, just as an animal trainer uses a reward of food to persuade an animal to perform.

Sure enough the moose swam over to the monkey. The ever so clever, but apparently water—shy, monkey thrust the banana into the moose's mouth and leaped onto his broad back. Having deposited its "ticket," it rode this ferry to the adjacent enclosure. From there the monkey had no difficulty escaping.

More remarkably human behavior was found in the harem of a baboon in another zoo. An open—air enclosure housed a typical baboon society, in which the strongest male baboon established himself a sultan and denied the other males access to his females. So possessive was the sultan that the slightest flirtation from any of his harem would result in swift, severe punishment.

The sultan could not be everywhere at once. Occasionally, while he was off napping, the females tried to cheat on him even though they were aware of the consequences. One afternoon a female in his harem who had been neglected by the sultan observed that her lord was sound asleep. She quickly took advantage of the situation and began to display her charms quite brazenly. Completely beguiled by her charms, one of the young bachelors began to caress the adulterous female.

Suddenly the sultan reappeared, and the faithless female swung into action with a fantastic act to appear as if she were being harassed. She tore herself away from the young male, gave him a slap on his chest, and fled wailing into the protective arms of the astonished sultan. She appeared to be complaining to the sultan about the aggressive would—be lover, because she kept throwing glances at Casanova, making throaty sounds of fury and drumming on the ground with her forearms. Her trickery worked; the sultan believed her artful pack of lies. Instead of punishing her, he gave the offending bachelor a thorough beating. While the no longer lustful male lay on the ground nursing wounds to both pride and body, the sultan heaped caresses upon his "sorely offended" wife.

Another human parallel among primates is addiction to tobacco. In 1957 chimpanzees in a South African zoo were given lighted cigarettes. Three out of four caught the habit and exhibited many of the peculiarities associated with humans who smoke. They would chain—smoke, lighting one cigarette from the stub of another, or inhale and sit back with arms and legs crossed as they studied the patterns of the exhaled smoke. When the craving was on they would search desperately for an unused cigarette or even a stub; they could recognize a cork tip and light the correct end. What an untapped market for the frantic tobacco industry!

From the book: 
Petrified Lightning