Capuchin Monkey

Professor Claudia Thompson with one of Wooster's retiring capuchin monkeys.


Wooster's capuchin monkeys retiring to Florida after 30-year career

Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary will be new home for trio

14 May, 2014 by John Hopkins

WOOSTER, Ohio, May 14, 2014 – Three capuchin monkeys will retire to sunny Florida this summer after 30 years of educating College of Wooster students. Alex, Jake, and Gizmo were all born on campus, and over the past three decades hundreds of Wooster students, under the direction of Professor Claudia Thompson, have studied their cognitive abilities, tool use, cooperation, and complex social behaviors.

The monkeys are moving to the Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary, in Gainesville, Fla., where they will live in a large, naturalistic outdoor enclosure built especially for them. The sanctuary, directed by Kari Bagnall, is home to more than 100 New World monkeys, including Cebus apella, or capuchins. Two of Alex's sons, Zeke and Pip, were given a home at the sanctuary two years ago and are thriving in their tropical habitat.

Thompson, a comparative psychologist, has been studying the monkeys for 30 years at the college. She and her students have done research on their complex learning abilities and social behavior, including processes of causal reasoning, self-control, concept learning, and recognition memory for individual members of their social group and species. These studies have given insight into the development of similar processes in humans, and studies of handedness in the monkeys have aided in understanding of hemispheric specialization and its relationship to brain development and language.

"The research has been informative," Thompson said, "but just as important have been the opportunities for students to work up close with the monkeys and to develop an appreciation of their rich social attachments, impressive intelligence, and intriguing individual differences. The students often form attachments that they will never forget as the move beyond Wooster. I am trained as a scientist, and wary of how my subjective feelings about the monkeys might be interpreted, but I do know that for 30 years, these special beings have approached us, interacted with us, communicated with us in their own way, and tried to understand what in the world we are thinking, as we have done with them. It has been a unique and privileged relationship."

Jungle Friends, a non-profit organization, has launched a campaign to raise the several hundred thousand dollars needed to support the retiring capuchins for the rest of their lives. Those funds will help pay for the purchase of a five-acre property that will provide living space for the three Wooster monkeys and at least 12 others on the Jungle Friends waiting list. It also will cover labor, food, veterinary expenses, and utilities. The college will make an in-kind donation to help support the capuchins' retirement.

Donations to support the capuchins at Jungle Friends can be made here.

You can watch a student-produced video of students working with the monkeys here.

The College of Wooster is America's premier college for mentored undergraduate research. By working one-on-one with a faculty adviser to conceive, organize, and complete an original research project, written work, performance or art exhibit, every Wooster student develops independent judgment, analytical ability, creativity, project-management and time-management skills, and strong written and oral communication skills. Founded in 1866, the college enrolls approximately 2,000 students.