whisper_monkey
Michael Sacharewicz

Imagine the scene: You walk into the monkey house. The previously noisy chatter cuts out. Ten or so furry heads swivel in your direction. They start whispering to each other behind their tiny humanoid hands.

TERRIFYING, right? Well, you’re right to be freaked out, because apparently monkeys whisper to each other when they perceive a person as a threat. And what they’re whispering about is almost certainly murder.

The cotton-top tamarins at New York’s Central Park Zoo used to yell and go crazy at the zoo supervisor, having correctly determined that the whole “captivity” thing was HIS FAULT. But at some point, they stopped throwing hissies right in his face, and started whispering about him behind his back. They still saw him as a threat, but one that needed to be discussed in secret.

These cotton-top tamarins had a history of going wild in the presence of this supervisor, who they associated with their both capture and uncomfy medical procedures. In the past, they had harassed him with loud vocalizations, according to the zoo staff. But when researchers from the City University of New York recorded the tamarins’ behavior before, during and after visits from the supervisor, they found that the monkeys didn’t mob him as they had previously — instead, they emitted low amplitude chirps and whistles, the monkey equivalent of whispers. The calls were so quiet that the researchers didn’t even catch them at first.

It’s not just me, right? The natural conclusion to draw here is that the monkeys realized the supervisor could not be yelled into submission, and started plotting an “accident”? I mean, that’s not what the CUNY researchers are SAYING, but I think it’s fairly obvious.