Wildlife encounters, whether intended or not, are often a highlight on travel. While significant precautions are emphasized for large animals, it is generally obvious to keep a safe distance. But what about some of those cute smaller animals that seem harmless? Doesn’t everyone want to pet that cute little monkey in the tree outside your hut? Not so fast….
Monkeys are indeed some of the most fascinating mammals, no doubt due to their human-like features and obvious intelligence. But monkeys are incredibly strong for their size and can deliver a vicious bite which, if it breaks the skin, must be treated as an infected wound. If habituated to humans, they can be bold and aggressive. Furthermore, they can carry bacterial and viral diseases that affect humans, including TB and hepatitis. Fortunately rabies is extremely rare if it occurs at all.
I was fortunate to have a pet crab-eating macaque when I lived in the Philippines, it was a great companion but required constant surveillance and needed attention. Slightly larger than a squirrel but with the agility of an NBA basketball guard and curiosity of a 2 year old child while smart as a whip, you always had to be on your toes. If I had not personally witnessed the monkey successfully picking the lock on its chain with a stick, I would never have believed it. Once loose, you had to bribe it to return with food in one hand and then gently grasp it with the other. The monkey always took its time returning to captivity….just like your kids when you tell them to come home.
Very affectionate with me and the maid, she was wary but indifferent to most friends and highly protective against strangers. She could pry or tear just about anything apart and particularly loved mango seeds which she ripped apart to get the kernel. Very destructive if loose. But I will never forget the night the electricity was off and the heat unbearable, so much so that I decided to brave the clouds of mosquitoes outside. I brought the monkey for company and she sat on my shoulder and caught any mosquitoes that came close, her night vision was exquisite. How about that for environmentally friendly mosquito protection!
I have heard other great stories about monkey-human encounters. A friend of mine was in a travel lodge in Zambia where there were signs saying to look out before opening the door. It seems the local monkeys had learned how to knock on the door like the maids and would rush into the room when it opened, trashing the place and stealing food and clothing. Hmmm.
In Cambodia, one should not feed the monkeys. The cup of nuts one can buy to feed them must be guarded carefully. According to an eye witness, one tourist had a cup of nuts in one hand while offering one nut with the other. The monkey went to get the single nut but suddenly smacked the guy in the face and grabbed the whole cup. He was stunned and could not react. Nothing like getting mugged by a monkey.
Special forces friends told me a very funny story about advancing in full battle gear with drawn automatic weapons on a purportedly abandoned villa previously owned by a drug lord. While they were debating about how to breach the door, suddenly a monkey came running out of the brush and ran up to the door, opened it, and stood there like a doorman. He had been trained to open the door!
Absolutely amazing animals. Those little monkeys are more than a match for the pickpockets in Rome or Rio. Just like with pickpockets, beware of groups!