In praise of primates


Join us in celebrating these remarkable and ingenious family animals.

Clockwise from top left: Image of a baby gorilla with jungle background; Baby chimpanzee being held by a rescuer, a baboon in a tree, and a vervet monkey.

It’s International Primate Day and we salute this diverse order of big-brained mammals. Primates first evolved 55 million years ago and today the group includes lemurs, monkeys and apes – not least us. 

From the long-term protection of critically endangered Eastern Lowland gorillas – the world’s largest primate, to the recent rescue of individual grivet monkeys from the illegal pet trade, Born Free is devoted to primate care and conservation. But we need your help!

With highly developed brains, colour vision, and strong but nimble hands and feet, primates – and particularly apes – are adaptive and inventive. Many species live in complex societies with a defined culture passed on through generations, able to learn from situations, solve problems, and even use tools. Primate offspring tend to develop slowly, their long childhoods allowing ‘plasticity’ – the ability to be flexible and adapt to change. 

Interestingly, ‘primate’ is Latin for ‘first rank’ – egotistic humans no doubt considered Homo sapiens to be the pinnacle of evolution! We are certainly the only living primate to be fully bipedal, spending more time on the ground than any other primate species. 

Apart from humans – found throughout the globe, most primates live in tropical or subtropical regions. But, alarmingly, a recent study found 60% of primate species to be under threat from extinction, with threats including deforestation and hunting for food and the pet trade.

In Zambia, the Born Free-supported Zambia Primate Project (ZPP) has been rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing injured vervet monkeys and baboons back into the wild since 2009. This month, we received news of one of the most heart-wrenching rescues to date. Baby vervet monkey Junior C, was found in Lwampa District, in the Western Province of Zambia, back in June. He was being kept in a cemented hole with a wooden cover in total darkness, alone and with no water or food, and the ZPP team together with the Zambian authorities carried out a night operation for his confiscation. Junior C was very malnourished, he never had milk before, so didn’t know how to suck properly from a bottle. After the love and incredible care of the ZPP team, Junior C now is a happy vervet who loves to play, climb trees, and eat wild fruit. He is currently in the nursery pen with another infant, and when he is a little older, will be integrated into the rest of the troop, before he is ready to be released into Kafue National Park towards the end of next year.

There are many ways for you to look out for our closest relations and help ensure their future. You can adopt a wild gorilla and help keep them safe from poachers in their mountain rainforest home of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Or adopt a rescued chimp and provide the daily food and expert care they need at a sanctuary in Uganda or Cameroon. 

You can fund the study and conservation of wild chimps, or the rescue and rehabilitation of monkeys kept as pets. And, if you witness captive primate exploitation, Raise the Red Flag, send your report to us and take direct action. 

Together, let’s pledge to protect wild primates and seek an end to their captive exploitation!


Images © Blake McGrow, Liberia Chimp Rescue and Protection, ZPP

Baby vervet monkey Junior C sitting on oa wooden bench with a yellow bucket behind him. He is staring directly at the camera!