I just learned that, while the rest of us have been focused on our own selfish pursuits, there is a group of selfless individuals out there engaged in the vitally important task of fingerprinting monkeys and apes. Not only are they fingerprinting them, but they are compiling the data in books and databases for study by the generations of monkey and ape fingerprinters to come.

The technical term for someone who studies monkey and ape fingerprints is a “non-human primate fingerprint expert.” At least thats what the one in the documentary I saw last night was called.

The documentary was about Bigfoot. They were analyzing some plaster casts someone made back in 1967 of some Bigfoot tracks, They were trying to figure out whether or not the footprints are real. One of the sharper-eyed researchers noticed some kind of small, squiggly lines on the casts and determined them to be “dermal ridges.” Apparently, “dermal ridges” is just another way of saying fingerprints or, in this case, toeprints. They needed someone to analyze the squiggles, so they brought in a police fingerprint technician who was also said to be – and I quote – “The foremost expert in the United States on non-human primate fingerprints.”

The non-human primate fingerprint expert showed up with various lights, a magnifying glass and a briefcase no doubt crammed full of monkey and ape fingerprint pictures and possibly bananas. All he needed was a London Fog type coat and deerstalker hat and he would have been the spitting or (given the nature of his subjects) feces throwing image of Sherlock Holmes. He explained in expert fashion that gorilla fingerprints dont flow in the same direction as human fingerprints. I don’t recall what direction he said a gorilla’s toeprints do flow in, but he did determine the ones of the casts flowed like a gorillas.

I for one was glad to see that when it comes to something as vitally important as evaluating Bigfoot tracks the producers of the documentary didnt leave it up to some second-rate non-human primate fingerprint so called “expert.” They used the top guy in the field – the foremost guy. The guy who, through hard work and perseverance, clawed his way past all the other non-human primate fingerprint experts in the country to reach the pinnacle of his profession.

I wonder if being the top-ranked non-human primate fingerprint expert in an entire country makes it hard for him to remain humble? I will tell you right now I couldnt remain humble. Not by a long shot. It would go to my head and I’d wind up taking every chance I had to lord my foremost status over the other, less capable non-human primate fingerprint experts. “Really, Dave?” I would announce loudly at one of the non-human primate fingerprint experts conventions so all could hear. “A Howler monkey, you say?” I would smirk knowingly. “You obviously failed to notice the imprint left by the upper descending lateral crease in the webbing between the thumb and index finger which clearly demonstrates that this particular hunk of feces was thrown by a spider monkey.”

I also wonder how something like fingerprinting monkeys and apes got started in the first place. Think about it. For whatever reason, one day somebody looked at a monkey and said something like “You know, Ralph, we really ought to fingerprint Chim Chim there.” To which Ralph said, “Not only Chim Chim, but all the monkeys and, while were at it, lets fingerprint all the apes, too.”

“Yeah! And maybe even lemurs?”

“Lets not get crazy, Dave.”

Truth be told, outside the Bigfoot cast analysis, I am not entirely sure how much need there is for non-human primate fingerprint experts. How do they find work? They cant all be sitting around reading and re-reading Murders in the Rue Morgue waiting on the next Bigfoot documentary.

The only other use I can think of for fingerprinting anything is for crime scene investigation, but its hard to imagine a courtroom scenario where someone says, “Based on my fingerprint analysis of the crime scene, your honor and members of the jury, I can say, without fear of contradiction, Mrs. Prescott was clearly murdered by a Gibbon with a derringer.”

In fact, of the few non-human primate crimes I know of, none of them require fingerprint analysis. In America, it usually involves a chimpanzee and someone fool enough to get in close proximity to one without the benefit of bars between them and it. It is always abundantly obvious that the perpetrator was the chimp that lives in the house.

Then there are places like India, Africa and many of the Asian countries where gangs of monkeys are either breaking and entering into peoples homes or they are performing snatch and grabs on tourist purses and sun glasses. Ive even seen monkeys engage in extortion by trading back purses and whatnot stolen from tourists for candy bars or other edibles. In fact, the simian gangster sometimes refuses the trade until it gets the candy bar variety it wants.

The point is, none of the offenders are exactly trying to hide their identity. Dusting a candy bar wrapper for fingerprints while the culprit is sitting there in plain sight eating the candy bar seems a bit pointless. So, again, outside of Bigfoot cast evaluation, Im having a hard time figuring out what all the effort and research is used for.

Of no surprise to me, after scrutinizing the squiggles on the footprint casts under various types of light, our foremost expert in the United States on non-human primate fingerprints concluded that the footprints in question were made by a real animal. His conclusion was undoubtedly based on his years of experience, rigorous testing and the proven scientific principle that if you tell the documentary people what they want to hear youll get paid to appear in more documentaries.

As point in fact, I saw the same non-human primate fingerprint expert in another documentary examining a possible Bigfoot hand print left on a car window during a Bigfoot search expedition. In this case, he informed the assembled bigfooters that the handprint was that of a good old fashioned human being.

I havent seen him since.