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State Street monkey business

Post by Bessie Cherry on 7/2/2007 3:09pm

munki070207.jpgVery rarely can one walk down State Street and hear someone eagerly exclaim, “Can I pet your monkey?” with good reason. Saturday afternoon was the one exception I’ve ever seen. Suri, a year and a half old capuchin monkey, was holding court across the street from Ragstock and had gathered a substantial crowd, despite the fact that he had no accordion or funny little hat.

Instead, the monkey wore a diaper and had a collar and leash. He hopped around from one awed onlooker to the next, scrambling up the side of one guy to land on his shoulder, swinging by the tail from a little girl’s arm. As he tried to sneak a stick of gum out of a nearby pants pocket, his owner, Hikki Greg, watched unsurprised. “He loves gum.” Was she irritated that so many passers-by wanted a piece of her pet? “I don’t care, it’s monkey awareness,” she shrugged.

She acquired Suri (who, she assured me, “got his name long before Tom Cruise’s baby”) from a breeder in Kingston, North Carolina, after watching his birth. From then on, he has been like a child to her, accompanying her everywhere from Wal-Mart to the grocery store. “I don’t even leave him when I go to the bathroom or take a shower,” Greg said, noting that she was visiting Madison from her home in Brooklyn, New York. Although it is often illegal for monkeys to be kept as pets, one can obtain a special permit from the Department of Agriculture to keep a primate in their home, and in fact Greg knows of a woman in Mineral Point who also owns a pet monkey. Although capuchins are omnivores by nature, Suri’s diet is not very complex — mostly fruits and vegetables — and his veterinary care is generally easy to come by. He sleeps in between Greg and her boyfriend. “He’s a very light sleeper. Anything will wake him… He usually ends up sleeping on top of my boyfriend. I move too much in the bed.” Part of the reason she never lets Suri out of her sight is that she worries about a natural disaster or a fire. “[The fire department] looks for dogs, but not for monkey... some of our neighbors don’t even know we have a monkey, so how would they know to look for him?”

Capuchin monkeys have a life span of about 47 years. They are considered the most intelligent of the New World monkeys and scientists speculate that they may have the capacity for self-awareness, or accelerated cognitive abilities. Capuchins are also being trained by some organizations, such as Helping Hands in Boston, Mass., to assist quadriplegics. After extensive training and socialization, these monkeys can use the microwave to prepare food, wash their owner’s face, and open drink bottles.

Suri himself deftly drank from the Evian bottle Greg gave him, and showed off for about an hour before his owners had to take off. Would they be headed to Rhythm and Booms later? “No, he can’t handle the noise.” Plus, as evidenced from her failed attempt to walk down State Street unnoticed, sometimes monkeys are more exciting than anything else going on. Greg laments their attempt to observe a Memorial Day parade. “Everyone was surrounding the monkey! It wasn’t fair to the veterans.”