Monday, October 18, 2010

Monkey trials and tribulations

BACK in the mid-1970s, a coffee farm neighbouring my aunt's in Batang Berjuntai was terrorised by a troop of monkeys. Led by a dominant male, the troop would raid the farm at mid-morning and feast on the ripening coffee berries.

But when the primates also destroyed the unripe berries, the farm owner decided to put a stop to the marauders.

First, he lit firecrackers -- which sounded like gunshots -- to scare away the monkeys.

When the monkeys got used to the sound and played hide-and-seek with the farmer, he trapped one of them.

Then he dressed it up in a red shirt and released it.

When the odd-attired monkey tried to rejoin his troop, the rest were sent scurrying deep into the forest, frightened by the strange-looking monkey hot on their heels.

But after a while, the monkeys returned and when the damage became unbearable, the farmer went after the leader of the pack, a wily alpha male that was soon caught with a snare.

When the monkey bit the farmer as he tried to release it, the latter lost his cool. The monkey lost his head.

The dismembered monkey's head was put on a stake near where the the troop would hang out after their feeding frenzy.

That evening, the cheerful chatter was replaced with eerie wails as the primates mourned their loss.

The monkeys did not return for some time, possibly traumatised by what they saw.

But when they did return a few months later, they not only destroyed the coffee trees, they also attacked farm workers as if in revenge for their dead leader.

Finally, some farm owners got together and hunted them down.

If the monkey menace was confined to farms in those days, today, development is driving them to cross paths with humans.

A friend who moved into an expensive condominium in Taman Melawati a few years ago had spotted a lone macaque near his home.

The animal lover, his wife and 5-year-old daughter would take turns to throw cream crackers off the balcony of their second-floor condominium.

Within weeks, a tacit contract was sealed between man and primate. The monkey would turn up at the precise time each day and it would be fed its daily ration of biscuits.

One weekend morning, my friend heard his daughter screaming excitedly in the kitchen.

When he and his wife rushed in, they caught sight of the monkey they had been feeding climbing out of the window.

The startled animal dropped the tin of cream crackers it was trying to carry away. The experience left my friend's wife shaken and that was the last time she allowed anyone to feed the monkey.

But the primate continued to loiter around their condominium for months. Finally, when it realised that it could not get any more biscuits from the family, it stole from the neighbours.

Forestry experts know best when they say that feeding wild animals is not encouraged.

Whether these are wild boars or monkeys, the wild animals usually have plenty of food in their natural surrounding.

But given the chance, they prefer handouts any day.

If regularly fed, they will appear at the same spot daily at the precise time for their meals.

But when they are not fed -- and some may lose their natural ability to forage for food -- they will not hesitate to intrude into human dwellings.

In the case of monkeys, they often approach those who carry stuff they have associated with food.

We have heard of wild monkeys snatching plastic bags, haven't we?

Most of the time they do not do it out of mischief, I am sure.

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