Cheeky monkeys!

18 Jan 2019 | Back to News, Publications and Annual Reports

Towards the end of last year, a crisis erupted in New Delhi when the capital was overrun by thousands of monkeys that allegedly ‘terrorised’ the city. They snatched mobile phones and food, chewed through fibre optic cables and broke into homes. One colony even managed to steal into a government building... Quite a different lifestyle from the one that our colony leads here, whose activities include swinging from fire hoses and playing with car tyres or ropes.

The recent mayhem in New Delhi was not an isolated event. A city of millions, Delhi is also home to several hundred thousand rhesus monkeys. Their monkey business has been a source of disruption from the time that India's cities began their march of explosive growth, displacing these primates from their natural habitats in the process. At the Biomedical Primate Research Centre (BPRC), where they make up most of the animal population, we know just about everything about rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta).

Rhesus macaques at BPRC

BPRC contains about 1,450 animals, of which approximately 14% are used each year in research. These rhesus monkeys are unique, because they have been indexed for a large number of genetic, virological and immunological characteristics. This fact gives us the power to pick and choose the right animals as subjects for our experiments, which in turn allows us to minimise the number of monkeys required for each particular experiment to the best of our ability. This Animal Testing Annual Report (Dutch) explains more about the animals on whom we experimented in 2017.

BPRC keeps all animals in groups and strives to embellish their surroundings in various ways. Animal training is also a priority. We have a staff of experienced animal trainers, who in turn coach our animal carers on how to execute animal training sessions.

Behaviour and character

Rhesus macaques are good and quick climbers. They live in social groups comprised of eleven to seventy animals, with the average troop comprising around twenty. Groups tend to consist mainly of females, with just a few males. Young monkeys are raised by the entire group, the males leaving at the age of four or five. Afterwards, they spend a few years roaming around with other males in a 'bachelor group' before choosing a troop of their own to breed.

Rhesus macaques are aggressive animals whose groups have a strict hierarchy. A key determinant of adult behaviour is the social interactions that a monkey sees growing up. To give the monkeys ample time for observing 'natural' behaviours and leadership, and for learning by example, we feel that it is essential to keep them in their birth group as long as possible – at least to the age of four. This situation lets them internalise the group dynamic and experience their father, mother or other adults as role models. In the end, they copy that behaviour as though they were humans.


On this page, you can learn more about rhesus macaques!

Interested in taking a group tour behind the scenes? Send us an email at [email protected] with 'Tour' in the subject line.

To whet your appetite for monkeys, come along on this filmed tour!