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What is Primatology?

"What is primatology?" By the simplest definition, primatology is the study of non-human primates. However, people will define it differently depending on the way in which they work with primates. Given the diversity in the field, examination of several definitions would be required to paint a complete picture. For example:

Friderun Ankel-Simons, in "Preface to the Second Edition" Primate Anatomy: An Introduction, 2000:

"We humans are classified together with our closest relatives among living things. Lemurs, lorises, galagos, and tarsiers are the Prosimians. Also included are monkeys of the New and the Old World, lesser apes or gibbons, greater apes, and humans as the Primates. The biological science studying humans together with their mammalian relatives, the other primates, is called primatology.

Primatology only exists because humans have a unique place within the Primates. No human would pay any more attention to this group of mammals than to any other group of living creatures were it not for our unique interest in understanding our own biological nature."

Joe Erwin:

"Primatology is the scientific study of primates.

It is not exactly a branch of zoology or mammalogy, just as anthropology is not exactly a branch of primatology."

Mike Workman (

"Primatology is the interdisciplinary study of primates which -- unlike traditional academic 'disciplines' -- is defined more by the object of study -- primates -- rather than the specific subject matter which it addresses. In this sense, traditional subject oriented 'disciplines' are defined by common goals, research questions, terminology and methodology while object oriented 'fields' of study are united only by a common target of investigation.

Perhaps the most concise analogy would be that of a field versus a discipline -- where a 'field' is simply a singular space where any number of activities can take place, while a discipline is denoted by a specific, well defined manner of performing a specific task or tasks, (which can be executed on any number of 'fields'). Examples of primate related disciplines might include anatomy, physiology, ecology, ethology, taxonomy, geology or neurology. Examples of academic fields might include primatology, anthropology, entymology or psychology, (defined here as the general study of the form and function of brains)."

Another way to define primatology is by looking at the primates themselves:

Russell A. Mittermeier, Anthony B. Rylands, and William R. Konstant, in "Primates of the World: An Introduction," Walker's Primates of the World, Ronald M. Nowak, 1999:

"Primates are one of the more diverse groups of mammals. They are similar in number of species to the carnivores and the artiodactyls (even-toed hoofed mammals) and surpassed only by the incredibly diverse bats, insectivores, and rodents. In size range, they are similar to the order Carnivora. Varying in size by several orders of magnitude, they range from the tiniest of the mouse lemurs (Microcebus myoxinus) at a mere 24-38 grams to the gargantuan adult male mountain gorilla (Gorilla gorilla beringei), which can tip the scales at more than 200 kg. The largest primate that ever lived was a Pleistocene ape recorded from China and Viet Nam, (Gigantopithecus black), believed to have weighed around 300 kg (Fleagle 1988). Seventy million years of evolving primate anatomy has been influenced significantly by an arboreal lifestyle and has resulted in such distinctive characteristics as stereoscopic vision, a relatively large brain, grasping hands and feet (having nails rather than claws), and superior levels of dexterity and muscular coordination. Primates are largely tropical creatures. Natural populations occur in the neotropical region of South America, through Central America as far north as southern Mexico, in northwestern and throughout sub- Saharan Africa, in the southern part of the Arabian peninsula, on the island of Madagascar, throughout the Indian subcontinent and southern China, in northeastern China and Japan, throughout Southeast Asia and Sundaland, and into Wallacea. Primates are absent from New Guinea, Australia, and the oceanic islands. As a group, primates eat a wide range of foods, including fruits, leaves, shoots, flowers, lichens, fungi, nectar, barks, gums, invertebrates, and vertebrates. Primate reproductive patterns and social units are also diverse, ranging from monogamous, territorial families to large, gregarious, multimale troops and to complex fission-fusion communities in which associations change frequently based on the availability of food and sexually receptive females. Despite their evolutionary success, however, primates are seriously threatened by a number of human activities throughout the tropical regions of the world, a situation that has placed more than 100 species and subspecies at great risk."