Whether we’re making a monkey of ourselves, going ape, or will be the monkey’s uncle – it’s not just the rich metaphors that connect other primates’ lives to ours, but the eternal constants: living and eating, socializing and sex, rearing young, and inevitable death. In his humorous and knowledgeable animal portrait, which is purposely not dedicated to the great apes, Volker Sommer shows the striking variance that evolution has created in this process. Rather, it is the lemurs, the lorisids, the tarsiers and the old and new world apes from which we learn that there is nothing that does not exist: polyandry or eternal fidelity, solo sex and females ensnaring each other, mistreatment of babies by mothers or devoted paternal care, plus unusual dietary habits, wakes or strict nocturnal activity. As individually as we encounter the apes here, as Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur, crested black macaque or spot-nosed monkey, it is also clear that there is one ape that threatens them all: homo sapiens.
"Primates are so different in terms of anatomy, ecology and behavior that the monkey does not exist. Moreover, each individual of a species embodies personalities, with often very contrasting preferences, fears, and habits. In relation to us humans, this is a truism – which becomes wisdom when we see ourselves as part of an evolutionary continuum."
Volker Sommer, born in Holzhausen am Reinhardswald in northern Hesse in 1954, is an evolutionary biologist and primatologist who has been researching the behavior and ecology of wild primates in Asia, Africa and South America for decades. He is Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology at University College London (UCL).