What is this monkey business in a Pilibhit police station all about?

A video of a monkey ‘grooming’ a police officer in a Pilibhit police station in Uttar Pradesh has tickled social media’s funny bone. Not only are netizens curious about the monkey’s behaviour, but they are also lauding the police officer for his patience.

So what was the monkey up to?

This viral video shows a police officer sitting at his desk and working on files, while a monkey sits calmly on his shoulder busy fiddling with his hair, picking up lice from his head and eating them.

Netizens were left in splits after Rahul Srivastav, an Additional Superintendent in Uttar Pradesh Police, tweeted this video, interpreting the typical monkey behavior as “looking for lice” on the inspector’s head.

So what was the monkey doing on the cop’s shoulder? Was it really looking for lice on his head? This typical simian posture is called ‘grooming’ by zoologists.

What is ‘grooming’?

This is a typical and favourite time pass of monkeys. They love to groom, scratch and fiddle each other’s bodies and hair. Internet is full of such funny videos where monkeys are seen spending quality family time grooming each other.

According to animal behaviour studies, while bonding is the main function of primates, but there is also a hygiene aspect behind the grooming.

Grooming removes dirt, insects, parasites, dead skin, tangled fur, and generally helps to keep an animal’s skin and hair in good condition.

Why does a monkey groom a human?

Grooming is a common behaviour among primates, but surprisingly, why would a police officer be groomed by a rhesus monkey?

According to Dr Abhisekh, a veterinary doctor at NGO ‘Wildlife SOS’, it is more than finding lice – it is a gesture of bonding. “When a monkey does it to a human being, it is out of affection as he tries to bond with him by using grooming as a gesture,” he says.

Some media reports, however, say that the same monkey bit a female cop in the same police station before deciding to settle calmly on the shoulder of Srikanth Dwivedi, the Station House Officer (SHO).

Many videos of primates grooming humans are available on the Internet.

Was the monkey looking for lice to feast on?

Monkeys are known to eat lice they find while grooming. However, some studies also suggest that monkeys indulge in sham louse-picking, or grooming, which is a well-known behaviour to zookeepers.

In an article on sham louse-picking of primates published in a research journal, the Director of Zoological Gardens at Rome said what monkeys during combing-out of the fur are constantly searching for and eating is the crystallised secretions of the skin, whose salty flavour tickles their palates. Sham flea-hunting, or louse-picking, is in fact, part of grooming.

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