These semi-terrestrial monkeys use their physical strength, long canine teeth, and well-ordered social structure to stay safe from predators while spending time on the ground. With fur that grows thicker as temperatures drop, they are well-suited for cool climates and can be found farther north than any other non-human primate.
What They Eat
Wild snow monkeys spend a large part of their day foraging. They love fruit, but depending on what is available will eat plants, small animals, insects, farm crops, and even soil. During winters with heavy snowfall, they rely heavily on eating bark.
Where They Live
These monkeys are native to three of Japan’s four main islands. Whether in the sub-tropical lowlands at the southern end of their range, or in the sub-alpine regions at its northernmost reaches, these semi-terrestrial monkeys spend most of their time on the ground.
What They Do
Highly social, snow monkeys spend time traveling, feeding, and grooming in troops consisting of 10 to 70 or more individuals. In winter they may sun themselves, soak in hot springs, or huddle together on the ground in sleeping groups to keep warm.
How They’re Doing
Snow monkeys have been officially protected from hunting in Japan since 1947. In general, this species is not experiencing any serious declines, although there are some local populations under threat due to loss of habitat and their perception as agricultural pests.
At the Zoo
Snow monkeys have an active social life and quickly win the hearts of the people watching them. The Minnesota Zoo is fortunate enough to be one of only ten accredited zoos in the United States to exhibit snow monkeys.
Our troop is a mix of adults, juveniles, and infants. Their enclosure is located across from the gift shop near the zoo’s South Entrance where they can be observed from inside the zoo or from outdoors on the ramp to our upper plaza.
- Scientists put monkeys into two main groups, Old World monkeys or New World monkeys, based upon the region where they are found. Old World monkeys, like snow monkeys, are found in Africa and Asia.
- Snow monkeys live farther north than any other non-human primate. In Japan, they survive the cold northern temperatures with long, thick fur and an occasional dip in a volcanic hot spring.
- Monkeys hold a special place in Japanese religion and folklore. They are considered messengers of the gods, and symbols of success and good forturne. The famous “hear, speak, and see no evil” monkeys are from a Japanese proverb.
- Snow monkeys have special cheek pouches. While foraging, they stash extra food in their pouches and chew it later.
In the wild, snow monkeys are listed as being of least concern by the World Conservation Union. Main threats to their populations include habitat loss due to logging, capture for the pet trade, hunting for meat, and shootings by farmers defending crop-raids. More field research on current populations is needed to determine the extent of these threats to remaining animals.
Things the Zoo's Done/Doing
Because of their wide geographical range and complex social structure, snow monkeys are widely studied. Here at the Minnesota Zoo, our troop is studied by staff and local universities carrying out research on animal behavior.
The zoo is currently conducting an ongoing study to better understand our troop’s social structure. This study is helping us “map out” the troop’s hierarchy, and will help us in the future when introducing new animals to the group.
The study also gives us information about how our snow monkeys spend time during the day. By comparing our troop’s activity levels to those of other wild or captive troops, we can evaluate and make changes to our enrichment, husbandry, and exhibit procedures to help stimulate a more natural environment for the animals.
Snow monkeys have been known to cause great agricultural damage in Japan. Researchers at the Kyoto University Primate Research Institute (PRI) in Japan, maintain that one of the major problems facing snow monkey conservation is the shooting of animals due to crop-raiding.
In 2008, the Minnesota Zoo, in collaboration with the Buffalo and Blank Park Zoos, helped PRI purchase GPS and UHF radio collars for monitoring wild troops of snow monkeys. Collaring monkeys within wild troops helps researchers monitor troop movements and better understand their home ranges, activity patterns, and how often they come into contact with agricultural and urban areas. Through our continued support, we hope the data gained from this research will help improve Snow monkey conservation efforts and reduce or remove the need to cull these animals from the wild.
The Minnesota Zoo participates in the Species Survival Program (SSP) for snow monkeys. One of the purposes of this program is to breed Snow monkeys in order to maintain genetically healthy populations in zoos and aquariums.
Since 1978, the Minnesota Zoo has successfully birthed 61 snow monkeys that have gone into the SSP pool. We hope to breed more soon.