Monkey Business

I like or tolerate almost all creatures except mosquitoes and monkeys. So when the dogs started barking hysterically one morning I was not charmed to find a large long tailed macaque glaring at me from the frangipani tree not three metres from my open-plan house. In fact, I was deeply apprehensive. These monkeys are aggressive, destructive and fearless.

I shouted at him to be gone, I threw a stone which missed wildly. He bared his teeth, ignoring me and the dogs as he scanned my house for edibles or attractive trinkets. Finally he leapt casually into the crown of a nearby coconut tree, breaking several leaves, before making his way off into the jungle. Clearly he was casing the joint.

I live next to a major temple and that is likely a factor in his decision to hang around the neighbourhood. Ibu Mangku was terrorised by this guy and one of his mates when she was placing offerings there one evening. I had been told that being sacred here in Bali monkeys can’t be harmed (although that doesn’t mean they are liked). But according to Dr Bayu Wirayudha, Founder and Director of the Friends of the National Parks Foundation, technically monkeys are only considered sacred if they are within a sacred space like a temple or the Monkey Forest. If they’re outside sacred areas and destroying crops, they can be (and sometimes are) shot. The Balinese don’t talk about this much, but it happens.

Friends in Penestanan, Mas, Tebesaya, Bedulu and Kutu Kelod are reporting monkey visits for the first time. Barry   told me that one broke into his bathroom and stole an attractively framed mirror. Tamara had to defend her dog with a stick when it was attacked by a monkey in her garden. A woman who lives near the Monkey Forest reports that they’ve become more aggressive in the past few years. Recently several entered her bedroom while she was asleep and threatened her when she woke and tried to chase them out. She had to run out of the house and wait for them to leave.

I guessed that this guy (I’ll call him Spike) had lost a dominance confrontation in the Ubud Monkey Forest and migrated up the river until he found some nice fruit trees and a busy temple with lots of offerings. Spike and his other banished chums from the Monkey Forest are completely unafraid of people and dogs. Bayu told me that wild monkeys are much shyer.

Bayu suggested that this sudden appearance of monkeys in residential areas may be because it’s the end of dry season when food is more difficult to find in the wild. “Over population in the Monkey Forest may also be a contributing factor,” he said. Another source may be released pets. He told me that hunters in Java kill mother monkeys and capture the babies to supply a ready market in Java and Bali for young macaques. It seems that lots of Indonesians like to keep cute baby monkeys, usually chained or caged, but of course as they get older and more aggressive they are not so much fun. Then people release them, which is very irresponsible. These semi-socialised animals can’t hunt for food or relate to others of their own species.

The Monkey Forest is overpopulated with about 750 monkeys. For the past four years or so, a sterilisation program has been underway in cooperation with the University of Hawaii, Bali Animal Welfare Association and Jakarta Animal Aid Network. The most aggressive monkeys of each gender are selected to prevent this trait from being passed on. Then they are caught, anaesthetised and a quick vasectomy/tubal ligation is performed. through endoscopy. About 200 have been snipped to date. Time will tell whether the aggression is genetic or       socialised.

Monkeys often bite. Dr Krisna at Ubud Care Clinic told me that his clinic alone deals with two to four monkey bites a week from tourists visiting Ubud Monkey Forest. Multiply that by Ubud’s several clinics and the number of bites requiring medical attention may be higher than 10 a week. “Sometimes the bites are severe,” he reports. “It can be quite challenging dealing with monkey bites.There is risk of bacterial infection, tetanus and Herpes B virus.” WHO general protocol recommends rabies vaccine, although there has been no rabies reported in Bali’s monkey populations to date.

Of course the best way to prevent a bite is to avoid interaction with monkeys. The population in the Ubud Monkey Forest is fearless of humans and dogs and can be very aggressive. Monkeys routinely grab glasses, hats, bags and jewellery from tourists. Anyone carrying food is asking for trouble. It’s especially disturbing to see parents hand a banana to a small child to offer a monkey, seeking that perfect Instagram shot. A nasty bite is often the outcome.

I’ve never warmed to my simian cousins. When I lived in Kenya, visitors would often ask me to stop the car when they saw a troupe of baboons. Despite my warning they would open the window and poke out their telephoto lens with squeaks of excitement as the baboons loped up. Finally they realised the danger, pulled back the camera and quickly closed the windows just as a dozen big, militant baboons swarmed the car. They would pull the windshield wipers, threaten us through the glass and urinate down the windows. ‘Drive, drive!” the visitors would shriek, cameras forgotten.

I feel threatened and invaded when monkeys lurk near my peaceful Bali home. There’s a basket of stones and a slingshot on the porch, ready to repel boarders. But Barry has the best solution. He brought over a few of his precious bottle rockets, a small firework that is aimed by placing it in a narrow necked bottle before lighting.

Only a few days later Spike returned, baring his fangs and lunging confidently at the dogs from a nearby tree. I armed my bottle rocket; I’d never lit a firework in my life but I was highly motivated. Touching the green bit with a match as Barry had instructed, I aimed the business end of the rocket just above Spike’s ugly head. It went off with a huge bang, discharging clouds of smoke. Spike leapt the river in a single bound, crashing frantically through the trees. It was most satisfactory.

A week later his friend dropped by and sat high in a coconut tree, watching the house; he had heard about me. I discharged the second rocket (they have an excellent range) and he   was gone long before the smoke cleared. Since then I’ve seen monkeys in the distance but they don’t venture near the house any more.

Which is a bit disappointing, because I brought a water bazooka back from Canada which has a 10 metre trajectory and I’m a little shocked at how much I’m looking forward to using it.


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