All my life I’ve been under the pathetic delusion that I could be great friends with a monkey. I’ve just discovered that I’m not the only one with that delusion. However, back to the story.
I’ve had a couple of embarrassing run ins with monkeys in different corners of the globe. My most recent encounter with a monkey was in India and this time I didn’t push the boundaries of friendship. We shared a couple of bananas and for my trouble the monkey climbed on the roof above my hotel balcony and peed on my head. But I’m sure it was in the spirit of camaraderie. Anyway, that’s how I read it.
About fifteen years ago I was visiting Phi Phi Island, Thailand, which is a lovely spot where they’ve filmed a couple of James Bond movies. I couldn’t imagine anything awful happening there.
Actually, it did – a few years after my trip, the island was badly hit by the tsunami and I still wonder if the little chap I met there came to a sticky end. I do hope not.
But back to the story. We got off the ferry at Phi Phi Island and waded through the water to shore (yes, it’s not very high tech!). And the first thing I see is a cute monkey sitting on a chair under a palm tree. Well, I just love monkeys but I have a very short memory. If I had a reasonable memory I would have recalled a Sunday in gay Paris when I visited a market full of cute animals in cages. There was an enormous cage containing a number of big monkeys. One seemed to think I was very interesting and stupidly I thought it was because we had somehow forged a bond, until, faster than the speed of light, a little hand darted through the bars and ripped the necklace from around my neck. The monkey then raced up to the top of the cage where it sat, chewing enthusiastically on its treasure. I never did get that necklace back either.
But back to Phi Phi Island. Making excited goo goo noises, I raced over to the monkey and sat down next to him/her/it. It looked at me with quite a bit of interest and once again my ego kicked in and I thought for a millisecond that my personality had shone through and I’d won a monkey’s heart. Then deju vu! A hairy paw shot out and with amazing dexterity, whipped my necklace over my head and was up the palm tree like a …monkey!
There it sat, chewing on its prize and no doubt laughing at me. I made all sorts of cranky noises and the monkey’s owner came running over. After assessing the situation he hauled his friend down by the chain to which it was tied. He grabbed the necklace back and then as a final insult, he clipped the monkey over the top of the head. I certainly didn’t endorse the head clipping and I felt sorry for the monkey who was now sitting, rubbing its sore head and thinking, thinking, thinking. I could see its little eyes darting from its owner to me. Someone had caused it pain and that person would have to pay. But it also realized that its owner could not be punished – after all, he was its owner. But this annoying woman was another matter! It was all HER fault! I saw vengeance in its eyes as it flew through the air, screaming a monkey scream! Landing on my bare arm it sunk its teeth deeply into the skin as it clung on for dear life. Meanwhile I ran around in circles, waving my arm around and also screaming a monkey scream! Fortunately, the owner disengaged the monkey from its hold and I collapsed in a moaning heap. Blood poured from the wound as I tried to assess the situation. Could I possibly have rabies? I’d heard somewhere that if there’s a chance you have contracted rabies you have to take the monkey’s brain to a hospital so they could check it for rabies. The poor monkey had however, suffered enough without me taking its brain, and in any case I had a feeling that a monkey that was tied to a tree didn’t have too much communication with other rabid monkeys so I felt that I was pretty safe. But I wasn’t sure if I might catch a horrible disease from its green teeth. At the resort they dabbed on disinfectant and assured me that the monkey regularly bit women and they’d all survived.
I did live, and for the rest of my holiday I watched (from a great distance) the nasty creature sidle up to unsuspecting women and steal their sunglasses and necklaces. My friend said he’d give the monkey a talking to. I watched as he sat down next to the monkey and the little wretch put a hairy arm around him and cuddled him! So it would appear that the monkey was a female with a hatred for all women. Still, I do hope she survived the tsunami. I’ve often thought about her, chained to the tree right on the water’s edge. Maybe she had already gone elsewhere with her owner. Does anyone out there know?
My friend, author Alison McKenna with a monkey
However fast forward down the track to today and firstly I receive an email which contained an amazing video of monkeys opening bottles for incapacitated people. These monkeys have been trained to heat food in ovens, fill glasses with water and no doubt do all the things that these people would like to do for themselves. Go to this link on youtube to see these videos http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jo4g2aKscaQ&NR=1 and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TUjRh84_4U4&feature=related . Incidentally, while looking up the previous videos, I found a video of an Indian monkey which baby sits a newborn baby http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fsaEvyHNZGs&feature=fvw.
Then, within two hours of receiving the email on the helper monkeys I saw a documentary on the tellie. It was called “My Monkey Baby”. Apparently in the US there are thousands of people who have monkeys as a substitute for a baby. I watched this show with mixed feelings. Three couples were featured. They had all purchased their baby monkey from a registered monkey breeder. This was itself a very sad issue. The monkey parents were locked in a small cage and following birth the baby was taken off the mother after 10 days. Monkeys have very close knit families and a baby normally stays and bonds with its mother for years. So to my way of thinking this was the equivalent to using two humans as breeding pairs and taking their baby off them after ten days. The only difference was that the monkeys couldn’t verbalize their feelings on the matter. One of the couples however, flaunted the baby monkey in front of the cage and we saw the mother desperately running from one side of the cage to the other in obvious distress. It was heartbreaking. I don’t know why humans have the view that an animal can’t feel the same depth of grief that we do.
In fact, I recently saw a documentary filmed on a wildlife reserve. The oldest member of a chimpanzee troop – a lady chimp – had died of old age and the staff wheeled her lifeless body in a wheelbarrow past the rest of the chimps. As the chimps stood silently watching this spectacle they cuddled each other and looked genuinely distressed. This was supposed to be proof positive that animals feel grief. However, every day I see proof that animals feel grief. Surely we’ve all seen dead birds on the side of the road with a disturbed mate hovering beside their lifeless body. When some of my hens were killed by a dog, the remaining hens were most definately distressed.
Given the obvious similarities with humans I’m saddened that the trade in baby monkeys is legal. However, we all know that if there weren’t breeders then babies would be ripped off mothers in the wild.
The monkey I met in India
Anyway, back to the story. The three couples in this story doted on their monkey babies which they dressed in baby clothing. The monkeys had toys and well, everything a little monkey could want. One parent had five children of her own but didn’t speak to them anymore. The jist of the story was that when they left home and she couldn’t play with them anymore, their bond broke down. So she embraced the monkey as a substitute for all her children and fed it the most dreadful diet. It continually had a lolly pop in its mouth and only ate pastries, ice cream and sweets. Apparently it didn’t care for bananas.
They all had an extremely responsible attitude towards caring for the monkeys, having provided for them in their wills and juggling jobs so that there would always be someone at home to keep the monkey company. I suppose it would be wonderful if all parents cared for their human babies with such diligence. However, I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen when the monkeys reached maturity and yearned for a monkey boyfriend or girlfriend. Would they become naughty monkey teenagers that bit and scratched when they couldn’t get their own way? Would they be relegated to the monkey scrap heap when that day came? To find the answer to that and more, go to http://www.petmonkeyinfo.org/surrogate.htm and see what happened to two monkeys when they got sick of being substitute human babies.
I remember reading that Michael Jackson found his chimp, Bubbles too difficult to handle when the chimp reached maturity. I’ve heard of others that have been given to circuses when that day came. Trust me, being bitten by a monkey is not a fantastic experience.
Last week I saw a documentary on Bobonos. These delightful monkeys which live in the Congo, have great empathy for each other. One monkey hurt its finger and the other Bobonos ran across to him. They studied the injury and kissed the finger better. Genetisists say that Bobonos have empathy in their genes. This did not however, stop the Congolese killing them for bush meat during the civil war. Many parents were killed and their babies sold into the pet trade. Given that there are monkeys with the same characteristics of man (ie empathy and close bonds with their families) – why do we feel the need to yank them from their mothers and subject them to unnatural life situations?
Sad as it is, monkeys are under threat in the wild as their jungles are burnt down all over the world. They are poached for bush meat in Africa. They are the subject of gruesome experiments in laboratories. The hope that a monkey can be born and live out a long life in its native jungle these days are pretty slim.
Maybe the best we can offer them are homes where they can eat ice cream, dress up as babies and perform cartwheels to entertain us.