Social and Non-Social Knowledge in Vervet Monkeys

D. L. Cheney, R. M. Seyfarth


The social knowledge of East African vervet monkeys is striking. Within a local population the monkeys recognize individuals, and associate each individual with its particular group. Within groups, the monkeys recognize dominance relations, rank orders, and matrilineal kinship, and they remember who has behaved affinitively towards them in the past. Outside the social domain, however, vervets appear to know surprisingly little about other aspects of their environment. Although they do distinguish the different alarm calls given by birds, vervets do not seem to recognize the fresh tracks of a python, or indirect evidence that a leopard is nearby. Similarly, although cooperation and reciprocity seem common in social interactions, comparable behaviour has apparently not evolved to deal with ecological problems. Results support the view that primate intelligence has evolved mainly to solve social problems. As a result, vervet monkeys make excellent primatologists but poor naturalists.

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