Where to go if you'd like to get bullied by some monkeys.
The Planet of the Apes (both the 1968 original and all the various reboots, reiterations, and spinoffs that followed) posits a strange and distant future where super-evolved apes supplant humanity as the Earth’s dominant species. But what at first blush looks like a bizarre and unlikely fantasy starts to seem more and more plausible when we see how monkeys across the globe are already getting humans to do their bidding. For now, that bidding is primarily snack-oriented, but whether their tactics involve concepts as nuanced as ransom or just plain physical force, the primates that dominate the seven following locations prove that The Planet of the Apes is far from science-fiction.
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The macaque monkeys that run the Uluwatu Temple on Bali have honed the act of swindling tourists into a fine art. Because these monkeys haven’t just learned to steal, they’ve learned how to barter. Indeed, they’ve discovered that by holding sunglasses, hats, and whatever else they can get in their paws hostage, they can then exchange the items for food. “Nice flip-flop you’ve got here,” their adorable faces seem to say. “Would be a shame if something were to happen to ’em …” Primate experts have noted that this behavior appears to be taught and handed down through the monkey-generations. So while these clever creatures are content with trading trinkets for snacks for now, it may not be long before their evolving machinations take on a more global scale.
The Taj Mahal
If you thought you could visit the Taj Mahal without withstanding the siege of Agra’s “monkey menace,” you’ve been terribly mistaken. The population of rhesus monkeys in the Indian city has gotten so out of control that not only are they brave enough to snatch food out of peoples’ hands, there have been increasing reports of people being attacked by the emboldened primates. In an attempt to curb the monkeys’ numbers, the Agra Development Authority and Wildlife SOS recently took the unprecedented step of putting a program into action that sought to capture and sterilize as many as 2,000 monkeys.
Agra’s monkeys found themselves at the center of controversy last year when a pinnacle on one of the Taj Mahal’s minarets was removed as part of an ongoing beautification project. Reports quickly spread that the monkeys that frequent the area had weakened the pinnacle with all their climbing, while others suggested that they’d stolen the apparently missing piece. While the Archaeological Survey of India did confirm the monkeys were innocent, the juxtaposition of primates and the damaging of a world famous landmark is a little too familiar for comfort.
If you have plans to explore the volcanic islands of Lake Nicaragua, beware of the unfriendly locals. We’re not talking about people, of course, but the resident howler monkeys, who are hungry and aggressive. They don’t take no for an answer and looking them firmly in the eye will only cause them to howl (which is a terrifying, blood-curdling, teeth-baring scream) and advance toward you. Your best bet is to not bring any food and to make sure you’re able to make a speedy departure on a motorboat if you accidentally get too close to the wrong island. They look cute, but these monkeys are scary as hell as soon as they start screaming—and trust us: They are not more afraid of you than you are of them.
Kam Sham Country Park has garnered the appropriate nickname of “Monkey Hill” thanks to its sizeable population of macaques. The monkeys have come to depend on food provided by people in spite of a 1999 law that banned the feeding of wildlife. The government even planted 200,000 fruit trees in hopes that more readily available food would sate their very literal hunger. (Although isn’t it interesting that this is still effectively humans catering to the monkeys—it seems they already have us wrapped around their finger.) In spite of these efforts, the monkeys have started to roam deeper and deeper into the city proper, presumably unsatisfied until “Monkey Hill” encapsulates all of Hong Kong.
Silver Springs State Park
Leave it to Florida to find a way to get the United States on this list, in spite of the fact that there are no apes native to North America. But if you ever find yourself headed to Silver Springs State Park to enjoy a relaxing day enjoying nature, you might be surprised to find yourself beset by feral macaques. According to local legend, the macaques were initially introduced to the area in the 1930s in order to enhance the setting for a Tarzan movie. Though none of these monkeys appear in the film, their dominating presence is readily apparent to anyone who steps foot in Silver Springs State Park, chasing would-be visitors and heckling unsuspecting kayakers.
It’s hardly unusual to see a family of Japanese macaques (or snow monkeys) relaxing in an onsen (hot spring) bath. But in Nikko, the human-monkey relations are decidedly less bucolic. The monkeys in and around this small city don’t think twice about grabbing people just walking down the street or hopping onto the hood of a moving car. The trouble began (as it always seems to) with locals and tourists alike feeding the furry creatures. Over time, the snow monkeys not only came to expect food but to demand it. Now, you’re more likely to be accosted into forking over a banana than to luxuriate in a hot spring side by side.
This series of limestone caves serve as a temple complex, the various caverns playing host to several Hindu shrines and temples. In order to reach the inside of the caves, not only do you have to climb the 272-step stairs at the entrance you’ll probably have to face down a crucible of demanding, grabby longtailed-macaque monkeys. The monkeys at the Batu Caves are territorial and if you don’t want your, hats, water bottles, or cameras snatched, make sure they’re securely stored.