Primates In The News (Plus An Impostor)

Primates — and strange facsimiles thereof — have been much in the news. Here are three cases of the animals' unusual behavior or appearance.

Self-Medicating Orangutans

Orangutans have now been discovered to use drugs — of their own manufacture.

Helen Morrogh-Bernard, a primatologist of Cambridge University, watched four Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) making a "soothing balm" that they applied to themselves to relieve their aches and pains. She observed them doing this in Central Kalimantan's Sabangau Peat Swamp Forest.

Morrogh-Bernard first observed the behavior in 2005, when she came upon an adult female orangutan picking leaves (of the genus Commelina), chewing them, and with saliva creating a lather. She spread this on the back of her left arm.

Since then, Morrogh-Bernard has observed three others of the species using the technique, and has published her results in the International Journal of Primatology. Humans are known to make the same lather the same way. It is not yet known which primate was the first to come up with the balm.


The Register,, 7/28/08

Save the Orangutan,

Monkey From Mars At The Georgia Bureau Of Investigation

At the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, in a small invitation-only museum, something hideous is displayed in a bottle of preservative. It was passed off as an outer-space alien back in 1953.

It had previously been a dead rhesus monkey until three young pranksters (a butcher and two barbers) removed its tail, and used hair remover and then some green dye to alter it.

Arnold "Buddy" Payne (the butcher), and Tom Wilson and Edward Watters (the barbers) had recounted a strange tale to Sherley Brown. Brown was the police officer who, before dawn on July 8, 1953, came upon their setup of the faked UFO alien on a road near Atlanta. The account to the policeman was of several short creatures moving about until the humans bumped one with their pickup truck. After that, the other "creatures" returned to their saucer-shaped craft and flew away into the sky. According to this story, the blast from this machine caused a scorch on the highway.

Brown filed the pranksters' story at police headquarters. Soon, phone calls poured in.

The three hoaxers had persuaded many, including in the Air Force, to want to know about it. A veterinarian looked at the corpse and described it to be "like something out of this world."

The timing of the trickery was good. On the previous night, people in the Atlanta area had reported spotting a big, multi-colored object in the sky.

Dr. Herman D. Jones, the director (and founder) of the Georgia Institute of Investigation laboratory, and Dr. Marion Hines, an Emory University anatomy professor, checked out the carcass. An Associated Press report noted that Hines deemed it a hoax and declared, "If it came from Mars, they have monkeys on Mars."

Watters had to cough up a fine of $40.00 for highway obstruction.


New Zealand Herald (from AP),, 7/30/08

Martian Monkey — Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia,

Monkey Or Pig?

It was actually a pig, but it looked like a demonic monkey, and many residents of Fengzhang village in Xiping township wanted to take a look at it.

Feng Changlin was the owner of the animal, and he told the publication Oriental Today that it was hideous and that no one would want to purchase it. It even frightened his family.

In the photos shared worldwide during July 2008, the face was indeed unsettling, with eyes much too close together — a condition perhaps caused by a brain development problem called holoprosencephaly. The disorder can also manifest cyclopia.

Other unusual aspects of the Chinese creature were two hind legs that were much longer than normal, forcing the animal to jump, not walk.

Feng's young son was enamored of the animal, and stopped his family from discarding it. The boy even gave it milk.

Some neighbors are interested in seeing what the monster will look like when it is older.

Sources:,, 7/29/08

Ananova,, 7/31/08

— Douglas Chapman

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