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October 18, 2006

Macaque Attack

In New Delhi, habituated macaques are running wild in the streets, stealing food from vendors and harassing passersby. In order to deal with the rambunctious monkeys, government workers have tried everything from sterilizing them to trapping and moving them far away. (India's religious and social mores, it seems, prevent strategic culling.) But the potential solution that has received the most ink in the press is bringing in langurs—big monkeys that seem to scare the crap out of their smaller simian counterparts—to send the macaques packing.

Of course, primate stories in the media aren't complete without the requisite clichés and misinformation. The recent Time article about the langur solution—titled "Monkey See, Monkey Do" for no apparent reason—repeatedly refers to langurs as apes, even though the animals are much more closely related to macaques than to any animals that could possibly bear the mantle "ape." (That exclusive list of large, tailless primates includes: humans, chimps, bonobos, gorillas, orangutans, and the "lesser apes" known collectively as gibbons. Apes and monkeys split apart 25 million years ago; calling a langur an ape is like calling a dog a bear.)

The Associated Press article on the monkey scourge describes langurs as "a particularly fierce breed of ape," and a Hindustan Times piece from last year, alternatively titled "Delhi goes ape over monkey menace" and "Monkey Business," also refers to langurs as apes. (Disclosure: I have also written an article entitled "Monkey Business"; there are thousands of articles with that title on Nexis alone. Luckily, my particular effort is not preserved online.)

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