Simian immunodeficiency viruses (SIV) infection of sooty mangabey (SM) monkeys (Cercocebus atys), a natural host species, does not induce CD4+ T cell depletion and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) despite chronic high levels of virus replication. In contrast, SIV infection of non-natural host species, such as rhesus macaques (RM), induces a disease that closely resembles AIDS in humans. The mechanisms underlying the lack of disease progression in SIV-infected SMs are incompletely understood, but certainly reflect a complex evolutionary adaptation whereby the host immune system is not significantly damaged by the highly replicating virus. It is now widely recognized that a better understanding of these mechanisms may provide clues to the pathogenesis of immunodeficiency in HIV-infected humans. In this article I discuss five different hypotheses that may account for the non-pathogenic course of infection in SIV-infected SMs and briefly review the available data supporting each of these hypotheses.