Sneak peak: The Lincoln Park Zoo snow monkeys

In a lot of ways, snow monkeys, the Lincoln Park Zoo’s newest addition, are just like kids.

Fun facts about snow monkeys:

  • They were one of the first species to be observed mimicking human behavior by washing their own potatoes before eating them.
  • In the snow monkey society, the female monkeys are dominant, and they assert their dominance by climbing on top of the other monkeys.
  • The pink coloration of the snow monkeys’ face and rear end is one of their most distinctive features.

They’re playful, rosy-cheeked and sociable, and they love to learn from watching others. But mainly, they’re skeptical of any new foods, and they have the facial expressions to prove it. Curator of Primates Maureen Leahy says the most entertaining moment with the monkeys thus far has been watching them inspect, poke, eat and finally fall in love with red peppers.

“They didn’t quite know what to make of them,” Leahy says. “They have been living in Japan, so as you can imagine, their typical diet is pretty different. But they’ve adapted very well so far. The zoo wanted to bring an exhibit that would be lively and engaging for families, and this is definitely it.”

As its first new major exhibit in nine years, the Lincoln Park Zoo chose to bring eight snow monkeys, otherwise known as Japanese macaques, to Chicago because of their unique ability to adjust to extreme climates. To make the city atmosphere even more comfortable for its new guests, the zoo built a habitat catering to their adaptability, complete with a hot spring, heated rocks and built-in fans.

The main reason Steve Ross, who will be leading the snow monkey cognitive research team, is enthusiastic about the species is because of the zoo’s plans to study their widely varied social dynamics.

“We basically want to see what the world looks like to these monkeys,” Ross says. “These monkeys in particular have shown that they have a high ability to mimic and learn from others’ behavior. I can’t wait to watch what they do and how they interact.”

The research team will be using live video, smart glass and touch screen rooms to observe how the monkeys respond to different situations and how they play off of the other monkeys’ behavior. The monkeys will also be taking personality tests not unlike the ones given to humans.

“For families that are excited about exposing their kids to science and technology, this is the perfect place for them to come and learn about an interesting species as the research is happening right here in Lincoln Park,” Ross says.

Families visiting the monkeys will have the opportunity to speak with an onsite scientist at the Regenstein Macaque Forest in the zoo about the monkeys and the research the zoo is doing. The grand opening of the exhibit will be May 2015, but random, lucky guests might get a chance to view them on intermitted releases before then.

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