Everyone loves monkeys. They’re cute, adorable and fascinating. One of those animals that children and parents alike love to watch. But they’re also fast, determined, strong and smart… like evil genius smart. There’s a good reason the Wicked Witch of the West chose monkey’s when she was conducting her genetic experiments to develop a winged army to terrorise Oz. During our adventures throughout south east Asia over the last two years we’ve had a few run in with these adorable creatures. For the most part we’ve found interactions between our children and monkey’s to be perfectly safe and a lot of fun, provided we’re careful to follow some common sense rules that we’ve learned along the way. Of course we’ve had some adventures along the way as we’ve learnt these rules. Here’s a run down of the lessons we’ve learnt from our adventures with primates. Some are serious, some are about as silly as we looked at the time getting chased through a park by a family or macaques.
Lesson 1: Primates are strong… really really strong
Last year we were at the Kota Kinabalu Zoo in Sabah during our three week holiday in Malaysia. Colin ‘must see’ in Sabah was to see orang-utans up close so when the zoo’s daily show offered the chance to have a coconut opening competition against one of their teenage orang-utans he jumped at the chance. He lost. Badly. Before he could even remove one inch of husk, the orang-utan had hers completely de-husked. Did I mention that as well as being a young orang-utan, it was also a girl? Yes, despite being just over 6 foot and reasonably fit, Colin lacks the strength of a baby girl orang-utan. As much as I enjoy teasing him over this, watching that baby girl orang-utan at work I think its pretty safe to say even Olympic weight lifters would be in for some serious competition if faced with this cute primate.
Over the past two years we’ve continued to watch the various primates that we’ve encountered and fully realised that even the tiniest wee little macaque could do us some serious damage if provoked. Along with loosing our tails, humans have lost a lot of strength in our journey out of the trees.
Lesson 2: Stay with your children.
Most of the monkey’s we’ve encountered are smaller than your average two year old human child. They’re generally docile and keep their distance. But if they’re eating or have babies around, the adults aren’t afraid to bare teeth and run at your children. Stay with your kids at all times. Teach your children not to not invade the monkey’s space but rather wait quietly and see if any of the monkeys will come over to see them or are happy for you to get closer. If there are infant monkey’s around stay even closer to your children and take your cues from the adults. Some species of monkey’s are perfectly happy for your children to get close to their infants, but others are a lot more protective.
Lesson 3: Don’t walk around with food in your hands when there are monkey’s about.
Last month at the Penang Youth Park the children were finishing their apples after a picnic when suddenly we walked into an area filled with long-tailed macaques. These small primates are one of the more aggressive species you’ll encounter. They’re also fast, great jumpers (almost on their way to Wizard of Oz flying monkey status) and determined… especially when there’s food on the line. So here we are with two small children holding apples while 10 monkey’s race towards them. As any parent would, I grabbed the apples from the children to divert the monkey’s attention to me and stood my ground. I lost the first apple within seconds to a sneaky monkey jumping at me from behind. I squealed like a baby from the fright. We started backing out of there across a bridge, with the ten monkey’s following us and soon realised that bridges are traps. With railings at shoulder height it was all the easier for the monkeys to chase us along those and jump higher. The second apple was quickly thrown at the nearest monkey as I ran off unsure whether to hyperventilate or giggle hysterically at how silly we looked being chased by tiny monkey’s not much bigger than your average terrier. The monkey’s were never out to hurt us and directed all their jumps at grabs for the apples rather than actually attacking us, but it was still a frightening experience. It was also humiliating lesson to know that whilst I’ll be brave to protect my children, when I’m in danger I scream like a girl and run away! Don’t walk around with food in your hands if there are monkey’s around. Do enjoy your picnic in a spot that’s free of monkeys and either put the remains in your pack or throw it out. If a group of monkey’s do discover you with food and you can’t intimidate them off then just hand over the food. Its not worth the risk of getting bitten… or looking like a fool as you run off clutching your food with a family of tiny little monkey’s chasing you all the way to your car!
Lesson 4: Don’t think eating inside a car with the door open will stop them… especially when there’s a nutella sandwich on offer
You’ve just pulled up in a carpark and your children are finishing their snack. There are monkey’s around but you think surely if the kids eat right next to the door with the car still running they’ll be safe won’t they? Noah learnt that the answer is no the hard way. On Langkawi he climbed out of our car with a nutella sandwich in each hand. As soon as the door was open an adventurous monkey was on the bonnet of the car, reaching through the open door to steal one of the sandwiches and scamper off into the sunset with his prize possession. Noah never had the chance to realised what was happening. Considering I was sitting right next to Noah and he was literally only just out the door this was one brave monkey. Noah gripped that remaining sandwich tightly and has never forgotten how much monkey’s love nutella.
Lesson 5: Bins are no obsticle… but then neither are backpacks
If you do have food with you while you’re visiting an area that has monkeys, take a good look at the bins before you throw any food out. If the bin is just a regular wheelie bin keep your food locked in your backpack and dispose of it when you leave the park. We’ve seen monkey’s turn over wheelie bins 10 times their size to get at left over twisties and cupcakes. Even bins with fancy locks are no obstacle. Try to avoid creating a food source for the resident monkey’s. The more they learn to rely on humans for food the more likely they are to be aggressive towards humans who might have food. Also consider the food that your throwing out – an apple core isn’t going to make a monkey sick, but that packet of half eaten twisties or cupcake … Of course if you do have food in your backpacks, keep it on your back at all times.If you have to put it down, stay with your pack. Zippers are no problems for these little Houdini’s.
Lesson 6: Girls love pink hats… even girl monkey’s
Our 3 year old daughter loves Dora and all things pink. So when we visited the Monkey Forest in Ubud, her pink Dora hat came too. Unfortunately we discovered that monkey’s also love pink Dora hats as five different monkey’s devoted their afternoon to trying to sneak Hayley’s hat off her head. She’s still pretty indignant about the whole thing 8 months later. The moral of this story? Bright colours attract attention. That’s great if your visiting a butterfly park and want confused butterflies to think you’re a flower. Its not so great when there are monkey’s and children around. Actually they also tried to steal my plain brown hat so perhaps the moral of this story should be if you’ve found monkey’s that want to play with you take off your hats!
Lesson 7: Beware the beggar monkey’s of Langkawi
The island of Langkawi in Malaysia is renowned for its beautiful beaches, cheap beer and lack of over development. It’s also home to a fiendiously clever tribe of monkey’s that have learnt the art of hitch hiking to trick humans into giving them food. Seriously! As you drive towards Langkawi’s cable car attraction a lone monkey will appear on the side of the road with his thumb stuck out. You pull over thinking how adorable he is. He holds out his hand begging for food. You wind down the windows to take a photo and think what’s the harm if we give this one little monkey a banana…. No sooner are the windows down than 20 of his friends drop out of the trees blocking the road and climbing on the bonnet of the car, all with their hands out stretched. Unless you’re willing to play chicken with twenty monkey’s you’re only choice at this point is to start throwing food out the window at a reasonable distance in the hope that they all run off to eat and clear the road allowing you to drive away with your hard won photos.
Lesson 8: Not all monkey’s are created equal
If you do want to see monkey’s in the wild on your holidays but are worried about taking small children to see them, do some research into where to find friendlier species of monkeys. In Malaysia for instance, you’ll commonly encounter macaques who tend to be more aggressive than many other primate species. But many other species of primate living in Malaysia, particularly the Silverleaf monkey’s at Bukit Melawati in Selangor are friendly, curious and happy to get up close to humans. Of course, while it pays to do research don’t discount visiting a place based solely on the reports of other travellers. When we were in Ubud earlier this year we almost didn’t take the kids to the Monkey Forest based solely on all the reports online of how vicious the monkey’s can be around small children. We spoke to locals who advised us that the reports were exaggerated and so long as we were careful we’d have a great time. Out of everywhere that we’ve encountered monkey’s, the little primates in Ubud were the most curious and friendly ones we’ve come across. We had infants holding our hands and trying to play with the kids, as the adult monkey’s sat calmly looking on.
Lesson 9: Consider a zoo
If you are worried about taking your children to see monkey’s in the wild, there are plenty of zoos that you can visit during your holiday in South East Asia. The bigger zoos often have better enclosures and animal rights records, but even the smallest of zoos can offer an amazing experiences for your children. We’ve seen the amazing orang-utan enclosure at the Singapore Zoo down to the tiny, underfunded Teuk Chhou zoo outside Kampot in Cambodia. The orang-utan enclosure at Teuk Chhou zoo is one of the most appalling things I’ve ever seen (second only to the snow leopard at the Kota Kinabalu sitting in his tiny, dark cage while the surely tasty gazelles run around in the enclosure next door teasing him all day). The orang-utans are so bored they just want to interact with you and hold your hand. Which is freakin awesome … but sad. The nearby enclosures for smaller primate species are a lot better, although the mesh is in disrepair. Of course this means there are lots of small holes in the cages that are just right for an infant gibbon to escape his cage and play a game of tug of war with you.
Lesson 10: Don’t threaten your kids with being kidnapped by monkey’s… they might just think its a good idea.
Our local tennis courts in Penang are frequented by monkey’s in the evenings. When we go up to kick a ball around before bed the monkey’s are often there and I’ve taken to threatening the kids when they fight over the ball that if they keep screeching the monkey’s might think they are a missing monkey baby and come steal them. The threat worked for two minutes until Mr 5 decided he’d quite like to eat bananas all day and learn how to swing from tree to tree. It didn’t take long for Miss 3 to agree with his logic. So now when we go to the tennis courts they start shouting to the monkeys to ‘come get me’ and then continue their fighting over the ball anyway.