Two new studies, both published in Science, have highlighted the importance of social learning and culture in two very different animals: vervet monkeys and whales. The study with vervet monkeys is unique in that it’s the first time that non-human primates in the wild have been shown to adopt a local tradition, instead of using their own individual knowledge. In humans, we know that we will often adopt what other individuals are doing when we enter a new group. For example, when you travel to a foreign country you might copy where the locals are eating, as you presume that their local knowledge is better than your own, or perhaps just because you want to fit in. It seems that vervet monkeys might do the same thing.
The same vervet monkeys adopted the local culture of Caribbean islands soon after they were brought from West Africa 300 years ago. They were brought along with slaves who were forced to work on the sugar plantations. Monkeys tasted alcohol by eating fermented sugar canes left in the fields. Today they drink at the local bars. Some of them are really addicted to alcohol. Vervet monkeys are just like us.