Never wear a neck-tie around a monkey.

When I was in undergraduate school, I had pet rats for a while.  Of all the pocket pets, the rat would be the most popular and endearing except for one thing: that naked, pink tail (that, and "rat" being synonymous with treachery and evil).  They are smart, active in the daytime, remain docile even after long periods of neglect, non-noisy, and easy to care for.  If they just had a fluffy little furry tail… but they don’t.   In those days, we didn’t call them "pocket pets", and if you were interested in learning to care for rabbits, mice, gerbils, guinea pigs, hamsters and rats,  you would need to take a course of "Laboratory Animal Medicine".

Sinclair research farm used to be out in the middle of nowhere. Columbia, Missouri has spread out so much that I think the farm is in the middle of a housing development now.   In those days, it was a relatively isolated facility with several very large steel buildings containing thousands of little research subjects. In addition to the rodents and lagomorphs, there was a colony of miniature swine being developed as potential research animals, and there were breeding colonies of squirrel monkeys and Rhesus monkeys.  Dr. Charles "Bud" Middleton was the director of the facility, and our instructor/mentor for the eight weeks of study there.  He had a special interest in non-human primates, and these breeding colonies were the only monkeys in the University system. 

These monkeys were not research subjects, except in the aspect of how to most successfully raise them in captivity.  As we toured the facility on our first day, Dr. Middleton advised us in no uncertain terms, "Never wear a neck-tie around a monkey."  A monkey is so much stronger on a pound-for-pound basis that you have to experience it to believe it.  I saw a 30-pound monkey jerk a 200-pound man off his feet one day. A small monkey could certaily choke you to death if he got hold of your tie.  My general observations of the monkeys during my time there permanently disabused me of the notion that I might like to have one.

Bud delivered other pearls of wisdom to us.  It was from him that I learned that "A chimp will kill you in a minute."  The performing chimpanzees you see are all juveniles.  Jane Goodall’s research showed that chimps will use clubs as weapons, and that they kill to eat meat, including chimps from other groups.  A 125-pound chimp is about three times as strong as the average man.

He made us learn to do hand-ties on our surgical knots.  He regaled us with stories of his time in the Amazon.  He let us know that National Institute of Health grants are often awarded more on the basis of the "old boy network" than on the merits of experimental design (he was a member of the NIH review board).  He was a heck of an interesting guy.  I wish that I had a picture of him.  He had a head of wavy silver hair like a television evangelist and a charismatic southern voice to go with it.

I thought of him when a little kitten came unglued, jumped into the air, executed a 180-degree mid-air pinwheel, and latched onto my neck-tie (I had neglected to zip my lab coat).  As the kitten swung back and forth like Tarzan, I was transported in time to hear the voice of the master: "Never wear a neck-tie around a monkey."  Words to live by.

The staff suggested that we re-enact the episode to get it on camera so it could be posted on You-tube.  I declined, but offered to loan them my tie.  No takers so far.

2 thoughts on “Never wear a neck-tie around a monkey.

  1. William Porter says:

    Hi E- Just saw this old post about Bud- not sure you know he is alive and well and living in Tarpon Springs, Florida. He has been retired and living there for at least 10 years or so. I just emailed him a month ago to say hi if you would like his contact information. Still the same old rascal that he was back then- Cheers- Willie P.

  2. Farida Plante says:

    Hi ,

    I just came across this item about Bud, I would like to inform you that he passed away on
    Saturday, Dec. 11, 2010, at Helen Ellis Hospital, in the Tampa area.

    Thank you for your beautiful item , it really is him.


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