WHERE PRIMATES LIVE

Video, Lessons, and Activities

Activities for understanding where primates live and the importance of preserving and protecting their natural habitats

A short video (below) takes you on a tour of the world’s continents to learn where nonhuman primates’ habitats naturally occur and which species live there. Human primates, of course, inhabit every continent. What happens when our worlds collide? 

The video is the inspiration piece for the “Where Primates Live” lessons and activities that follow. Together, they promote discussion and understanding around the needs to preserve and protect natural habitats and those who live in them.

Learning Goals and Objectives are clearly outlined below.

Have fun while learning!

WATCH THE VIDEO

LESSONS AND ACTIVITIES

Five activities bring you on a journey to discover where in the world primates live and why we need to preserve and protect their natural habitats. Students can work in teams or individually.

Black-and-gold holwer monkeys live the rainforests of Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, and northernmost Argentina. They are New World monkeys.
LEARNING GOALS AND OBJECTIVES

Here’s What You’ll Learn

  • World geography as pertains to natural primate distribution and habitats
  • The continents on which nonhuman primates are native
  • That human primates inhabit all continents
  • The natural worldwide distribution of nonhuman primates
  • What primates are and the differences in their biological order
  • The differences between great apes, lesser apes, monkeys, and prosimians
  • The differences between Old World and New World monkeys

Objectives

  • Learn that human primates inhabit all continents and impact the viability of our nonhuman cousins
  • Understand the need to protect nonhuman primate habitats and, thereby, the primates that live in them
  • Understand where in the world nonhuman primates belong and where they do not belong
  • Consider the ethical dilemmas inherent in keeping nonhuman primates where they do not belong
  • Understand that over 66% of primate species are at risk of extinction

Lesson developed by Debra Curtin, 2016, revised 2021.

PRIMATES 101

Who and What Are Primates?

Primates are mammals that typically have large highly developed brains, forward-facing color vision, flexible hands and feet with opposable thumbs, and fingernails. (Typically, but not always.)

Primates have slower developmental rates than other similarly sized mammals, reaching maturity later later in life, but with longer overall lifespans than many similarly-sized species.

With the exception of humans, who live throughout the globe, most primates live in tropical or subtropical regions. But don’t be fooled. Some also live in semi-deserts, alongside swamps, in cold mountainous regions, on rocky cliffs, or in cities.

Are all primates monkeys? NO!

Are all monkeys primates? YES!

Did you know that you are a primate? In fact, you are a great ape.

So, if all primates are NOT monkeys, who and what are primates? 

The biological order “Primates” is divided into the following four classifications:

1. GREAT APES

bonobos, chimpanzees, gorillas, humans, and orangutans

2. SMALL APES

gibbons

3. MONKEYS

baboons, capuchin monkeys, colobus monkeys, drills, geladas, green monkeys, grivets, guenons, howler monkeys, langurs, lutungs, macaques, malbroucks, mandrills, mangabeys, marmosets, muriquis, night monkeys, patas monkeys, proboscis monkeys, sakis, snub-nosed monkeys, spider monkeys, squirrel monkeys, surilis, swamp monkeys, talapoins, tamarins, tantalus monkeys, titis, uakaris, vervets, and woolly monkeys

4. PROSIMIANS

 the oldest, most “primitive” order of primates includes angwantibos, galagos or bushbabies, lemurs, lorises, pottos, and, somewhat controversially, tarsiers

There are an estimated 522 primates species, plus an additional estimated 182 subspecies, with astounding diversity. 

70% of primate species and subspecies are threatened by extinction.

What can you do to protect them? Step 1 is to learn about them! And that’s what you’re doing now.

What Does It Mean?
Here are a few definitions to help.

Genus (plural, genera):
A biological classification, or ranking, of living beings that includes a group(s) of species that are structurally similar or “related” to one another through evolution.

Placental Mammals:
Any member of the mammal family characterized by the presence of a placenta, which facilitates exchange of nutrients and wastes between the blood of the mother and that of the fetus.

Opposable thumb:
A thumb that can be placed opposite the fingers of the same hand. Opposable thumbs allow the digits to grasp and handle objects and are a characteristic of primates.

Neotropical: 
Relating to, or constituting the tropical New World biogeographic region that extends south, east, and west from the central plateau of Mexico.

Check out the Glossary for more definitions.

Research and Learn:

Explore the Helpful Resources, above, to learn about the differences between great apes, lesser apes, monkeys, and prosimians, including:

  • What are their major differentiating characteristics?
  • Who has tails? Who does not have tails?
  • What are the differences in where and how they live?
  • Who lives in trees? Who lives on the ground? Who lives in deserts? Who lives in mountains? Who lives in tropical rainforests?
  • What are the differences in how and what they eat?
  • What does their food choices tell you about where they live? How does where they live tell you about their food choices?
  • Who is active only at night? Who is active only in day? Who is active day and night?
  • Who lives in family groups?
  • Who mates for life?
  • Who is solitary?
  • What else did you learn about their differences?
  • How do all of these characteristics determine where they live? How does where they live determine these characteristics?
New World and Old World Monkeys

What's the Difference?
NEW WORLD MONKEYS
  • Found from southern Mexico to Central and South America, except in the highest mountains
  • More primitive than Old World monkeys
  • Their brains are considered less complex than those of Old World monkeys
  • Their thumbs, when present, are not opposable
  • Their nostrils are further apart and tend to point outward
  • Most have 36 teeth
  • They have slender bodies and limbs with long narrow hands
  • Most have a prehensile or partially prehensile tail
  • Include capuchin monkeys, howler monkeys, marmosets, muriquis, night monkeys, saki monkeys, spider monkeys, squirrel monkeys, tamarins, titis, woolly monkeys, and uakaris
  • No nonhuman apes are endemic to the New World
  • No prosimians are endemic to the New World 
OLD WORLD MONKEYS
  • Found throughout Africa, with the exception of the most arid deserts, and in southern Asia, with a few species as far north as Japan and northern China, 
  • Most, but not all, have opposable thumbs
  • Their tails are are never prehensile
  • Their nostrils are close together and tend to point downward
  • Many species have cheek pouches to hold food, and many have thick pads on their buttocks
  • They have 32 teeth
  • They are more closely related to the apes and, therefore, humans than they are to the New World monkeys
  • Include baboons, colobus monkeys, drills, geladas, green monkeys, grivets, guenons, kipunjis, langurs, leaf monkeys, macaques, malbroucks, mandrills, mangabeys, langurs, patas monkeys, proboscis monkeys, snub-nosed monkeys, surilis, swamp monkeys, talapoins, tantalus monkeys, and vervets
  • All apes are found in Old World regions of the world
  • Prosimians are also found in Old World regions

Research and Learn:

Research and list some other differences between New World and Old World monkeys.

How many can you find?

  • What species demonstrate those differences?
  • What countries are they from?
  • What continents are they from?
  • How do those characteristics benefit them in their natural habitats?

What Does It Mean?
​Here are a few definitions to help.

Opposable:
Capable of being placed opposite to something else.

Prehensile:
Adapted for seizing, grasping, or taking hold of something.

Cheek pouches:
A sac in the cheek of certain animals in which food may be carried.

Check out the Glossary for more definitions.

WHERE NONHUMAN PRIMATES DO NOT BELONG

Research and Learn:

Take a look at the world map below. It depicts the natural worldwide distribution of nonhuman primates.

In what countries and regions do nonhuman primates NOT naturally live?

  • Why do you think they do not live in those countries or regions of the world?
  • Why do they naturally live where they do?
  • Why might they be found in countries and regions in which they do not belong?
  • What are the physical and ethical dilemmas of keeping them in countries outside of their native habitats? Or as pets? Or in research? Or in other captive environments and situations?

WORLDWIDE DISTRIBUTION OF NONHUMAN PRIMATES

NAME THAT SPECIES

Become a Primate Pro For Your Favorite Species
mandrill-istock-000003388317small_1_orig

The mandrill is an Old World monkey and the largest monkey species in the world. Who is your favorite?

The Where in the World Primates Live video lists the primate species that live on their home continents. The Primate Species Profiles page of this website lists species by the region in which they live, as well as by their biological order. To find your favorite primate species, go to the Primate Species Profiles index page, click on your favorite primate or primates, and learn more about them. You might even consider selecting a species that you’ve never heard of, rather than your favorite. You might be surprised by what you learn.

How to become a “pro” about your favorite species: write an essay or draw a picture that depicts:

  • Where the primate species lives
  • Whether the species is from the New World or the Old World
  • How they live
  • What they eat
  • How they communicate
  • How their habitat influences what they eat, how they behave, and how they communicate
  • Some fun facts about the species
  • The species’ conservation status
  • The threats to the future of the species
PRIAMATES AND THEIR HABITATS CARD GAMES

Learn While Playing

Activities for introducing the diversity of nonhuman primate species and the habitats in which they live. 

Did you know that some monkeys live in cities? That some live in semi-deserts? And some live in snow-covered mountains?

Learn about some of the surprisingly diverse habitats that nonhuman primates call home while playing fun card games.

36 game cards are divided into 27 primate cards and 9 habitat cards. Select from 4 card games. And have fun!

Visit Primates and Their Habitats to download the card deck and for game instructions.

Here’s what the cards look like:

Copyright © New England Primate Conservancy 2016-2021. You may freely use, copy and share these Learning Activities for educational purposes. 
For questions or comments, e-mail us at info@neprimateconservancy.org