1 September 2021

Zookeeper Nick Burnham from London Zoo’s Primate team gives us the inside scoop on some of our closest relatives, and tells us who his favourite animal is...

Squirrel monkey London Zoo

How do we tell our monkeys from our apes? 

As a rule of thumb, if primates have tails they’re usually monkeys. If you can’t see a tail they’re normally apes – like us!

When's best to spot primates at London Zoo?

Come rain or shine, you will nearly always see our father and son duo, northern white-cheeked gibbons Jimmy and Yoda, swinging about their home. They love to be outside (which can make it hard for us to clean their outdoor areas)! So even if it’s pouring with rain Jimmy will be sitting on a branch, quite contently, refusing to take cover.

The gorillas are best to catch when the Zoo opens or at lunch time. At 10am we go into the back dens to give everything a clean – so they’re always out and about. At 1:30pm they’ll normally have a feed of pulses and leaves on the island so it’s a good time to spot them foraging.

Unless it’s pouring, you can guarantee the squirrel monkeys will be dashing around their walkthrough, up to their mischievous ways as always!

Alika the gorilla at Gorilla Kingdom London Zoo

Does anyone have any odd habits?

Primates are so interesting because they’re a lot like us. They all have little traits, and the longer you spend with them the more you understand them. Mangabeys smack their lips to communicate, and Hanuman langurs are incredibly agile gymnasts. 

Do you have a favourite?

You’re probably not meant to have a favourite but I think everybody does. I absolutely love Jimmy the gibbon, he’s a lot of fun because he’s so energetic and he really engages with people. You’ll hear him singing in the morning. Gibbons tend to sing in duets so Jimmy will start and Yoda, his son, will respond. Jimmy also likes to sing at the dogs in Regent’s Park, which I think is brilliant. They have no idea what’s happening but they bark along. 

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  • A close up image of a Hanuman Langur's face at London Zoo
    Semnopithecus entellus

    Hanuman Langur

    Named after the Hindu God Hanuman, the deity of healing and worship, who is often depicted as part-man, part-monkey.

  • Gorilla eating at London Zoo
    Gorilla gorilla gorilla

    Western lowland gorilla

    Gorillas are the world's largest primate, weighing up to 200kg. They share 98.4% of their DNA with humans, and all four gorilla subspecies are critically endangered.

  • Squirrel monkey baby at London Zoo
    Saimiri boliviensis

    Black-capped squirrel monkeys

    Squirrel monkeys have the largest brain, proportionally, of all primates.

  • A colobus monkey holding onto a tree in Monkey Valley
    Colobus guereza

    Eastern black-and-white colobus

    These have just four long fingers on each hand and a bump where you'd expect to see a thumb. 

  • Northern white cheeked gibbon male
    Nomascus leucogenys

    Northern white-cheeked gibbon

    These gibbons mate for life, and sing together to strengthen bonds and defend their territory, but they are under serious threat from poaching for the pet trade, traditional medicine, and deforestation.

  • White-naped mangabey at London Zoo
    Cercocebus lunulatus

    White-naped mangabey

    In the wild they are in real trouble, but our mangabeys are a part of a successful European breeding programme.

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