Monkeys drink like humans

Research finds they may be binge drinkers, social drinkers and more

Mar 4, 2002 - Monkeys on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts have acquired a taste for alcohol and shown a tendency to act much like humans while under its influence.


The "drunken monkeys" will be highlighted in a six-part television series called Weird Nature, starting on BBC1 on March 20. Phil Dalton, the assistant producer, saw some of the island's many wild vervets descend on beach bars to sip cocktails during "happy hour."

"When they spotted a drink that had been left unguarded or unfinished, the monkeys would sneak down from the trees, jump on the tables and start drinking," he said. "They were tasting the drinks to see which ones they liked."

A controversial research project that involves giving alcohol to 1,000 green vervet monkeys has found that the animals divide into four main categories: binge drinker, steady drinker, social drinker and teetotaler.

The vast majority are social drinkers who indulge in moderation and only when they are with other monkeys - but never before lunch - and prefer their alcohol to be diluted with fruit juice.

Scientists are using the monkeys - which share 96 per cent of their genetic make-up with humans - to help to search for clues to the nature of human drinking and to discover whether some people have a hereditary disposition to alcoholism - or "alcohol genes."

The research animals are kept in cages and given a choice of non-alcoholic, diluted alcoholic and neat drinks. Animal-welfare groups have condemned the experiments. "This project sounds completely bizarre and I think people will be outraged," said a spokesman for the World Society for the Protection of Animals.

The experiments are being led by Frank Ervin, a professor of psychiatry at McGill University in Montreal, and Roberta Palmour, a professor of human genetics there.

"The parallels between the vervets' behavior and human behavior are striking," Ervin said. "A cageful of drunken monkeys is like a cocktail party. You have one who gets aggressive, one who gets sexy, one who thinks everything's funny and one who gets really grumpy.

"The binge drinkers gulp down the alcohol at a very fast rate and pass out on the floor. The next day they do it all over again."

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