Experimental and clinical studies suggest that primate species exhibit greater recovery after lateralized compared to symmetrical spinal cord injuries. Although this observation has major implications for designing clinical trials and translational therapies, advantages in recovery of nonhuman primates over other species have not been shown statistically to date, nor have the associated repair mechanisms been identified. We monitored recovery in more than 400 quadriplegic patients and found that functional gains increased with the laterality of spinal cord damage. Electrophysiological analyses suggested that corticospinal tract reorganization contributes to the greater recovery after lateralized compared with symmetrical injuries. To investigate underlying mechanisms, we modeled lateralized injuries in rats and monkeys using a lateral hemisection, and compared anatomical and functional outcomes with patients who suffered similar lesions. Standardized assessments revealed that monkeys and humans showed greater recovery of locomotion and hand function than did rats. Recovery correlated with the formation of corticospinal detour circuits below the injury, which were extensive in monkeys but nearly absent in rats. Our results uncover pronounced interspecies differences in the nature and extent of spinal cord repair mechanisms, likely resulting from fundamental differences in the anatomical and functional characteristics of the motor systems in primates versus rodents. Although rodents remain essential for advancing regenerative therapies, the unique response of the primate corticospinal tract after injury reemphasizes the importance of primate models for designing clinically relevant treatments.