Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Monday 8/5/2006 Last month, a story broke that not only has legs but a prehensile tail to boot. London Zoo has built a barrier-free enclosure for its spider monkeys, which lets us higher primates in to mingle with our cuter, less IT-obsessed cousins.

Monday 8/5/2006

Last month, a story broke that not only has legs but a prehensile tail to boot. London Zoo has built a barrier-free enclosure for its spider monkeys, which lets us higher primates in to mingle with our cuter, less IT-obsessed cousins. Or so we thought, until the critters developed an addiction to mobile phones - one hint of a Nokia, and they'd descend in swarms, mugging the hapless Homo Sapiens and carrying off the precious prize with whoops of delight. Actually, there was no indication whether any particular brand was preferred, although the keepers thought that the flashier and noisier the mobile, the more desirable. There are some things that millions of years of divergent evolution can't mask.

The monkeys have been cured of their obsession, though - the keepers acquired a number of phones, smeared them with 'an unpleasant sticky substance' containing mustard and suckered the simians into swiping the bait. As spider monkeys are very clean animals with an acute sense of taste, Goodwins Minor informs me, this came as a nasty shock and they've learned to keep away. Perhaps we should try it with teenagers... but perhaps it only works with very clean animals with acute senses of taste.

"They missed a trick", commented friend Adrian when I told him the story. "They should encourage the monkeys, and hire them out to theatres, cinemas and train companies."

He's right, of course: it's not only a good idea, it's entirely in keeping with the times. We've seen recruitment problems with the police solved -- or at least offset -- by the appointment of swathes of Police Community Support Officers, who are trained and paid less than the true copper but have to deal with a lot of the same stuff. Now, one hears, there are shortfalls in PCSO recruitment and heads are being scratched about how to get more high visibility jackets on the street. A new force even more poorly skilled and badly rewarded is required.

At the same time, anti-social behaviour is being criminalised -- and there's little more anti-social than blabbermouths yabbering away amid a cacophony of ringtones. I propose squads of spider monkeys be given the power of confiscation and on-the-spot fines: they could literally be paid peanuts, and are highly unlikely to unionise.

There may even be roles for them in international peace-keeping, where their lack of nationality and religious affiliation may give them unique access. They could have diffused the near-riot that occurred this week in the Iraqi Parliament after a mobile phone played a Shia Muslim chant - one lightning swoop, and the problem disappears. And who better to deal with gorilla warfare?


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