Boozy Beasts

Do wild animals enjoy recreational drugs as much as humans? The vervet monkey might:

Sometimes called green monkeys, they are native to Africa, but a handful of isolated groups dish_vervetwound up scattered across islands in the Caribbean. In the 18th and 19th Centuries, slavers often took the monkeys as pets, and when their ships landed in the new world, the monkeys easily escaped or were intentionally released. There, free of most of their predators, the small primates adapted quite well to tropical island life. For 300 years, the animals lived in an environment dominated by sugar cane plantations. And when the sugar cane was burned, or occasionally fermented before harvest, it became a treat for the monkeys. As they became accustomed to the ethanol in the fermented cane juice, the monkeys may have developed both a taste and tolerance for alcohol. …

Descendants of those introduced monkeys have since been studied so that we can understand more about their boozy behavior. One study found that nearly one in five monkeys preferred a cocktail of alcohol mixed with sugar water over a sip of sugar water alone. Intriguingly, younger individuals were more likely to drink than older individuals, and most of the drinking was done by teenagers of both sexes. The researchers, led by Jorge Juarez of Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, suspect that older monkeys shun alcohol because of the stresses of monkey politics. “It is [possible] that adults drink less because they have to be more alert and perceptive of the social dynamics of the group.” In other words, at some point the monkeys leave their days of heavy drinking and hangovers behind and start acting like adults.

(Image of a vervet monkey with sugar cane via Robert Neff)