Monkeys in their natural habitat are a constant source of entertainment. National Geographic seems to have caught onto this recently, and is producing several shows including Street Monkeys, Dark Days in Monkey City, and Monkey Thieves, all of which follow groups of monkeys in the wild. I may not have a camera crew, but I often feel like there's a soap opera unfolding right in front of me when I watch the monkeys that I work with. My monkeys have been dubbed the "Hindhede group," because they spend a lot of time on Hindhede Road, which leads up to Bukit Timah. Because of their preference for the road and the parking lot of the Visitor Center, the monkeys are highly habituated to humans, and sometimes cause problems for visitors to the reserve and people living around the reserve. However, as I've preached about before, I think that people often blow the problems out of proportion, sometimes complaining simply because they saw a monkey (Well if you don't want to see an animal, perhaps you shouldn't live next to a nature reserve? Just a thought). Anyway, I've shared a lot of background information about the monkeys and where they live in previous posts, so I thought it might be time for some introductions. These are some of the most notable monkeys- I can't include everyone, because there are about 60 of them! (On the right here is Penney, napping comfortably on a precarious perch).
First and foremost, the big dog. Leo is the alpha male of the group. Long-tailed macaque males migrate from the group in which they were born, and fight for dominance when they enter a new group. Leo came in with some other males and dethroned the previous alpha, Hercules. Thus, the alpha male isn't necessarily the largest, but could be a monkey with strong coalitions with other monkeys who are good fighters. Leo's softer side is pictured here, as he's holding an infant. When people see the males holding infants, they often say "Awww look, that's the daddy holding his baby!" but because many males mate with each female, the males never know for sure which infants are their offspring.This is Hercules, the old alpha. He's very muscular, and I think he looks like a dog.Stumpy, so named for obvious reasons (we don't know what happened to his tail), also joined the group somewhat recently. He was really aggressive for awhile, and I suspect that he came from a group that was less habituated to humans. Over the past few months he's gotten a lot better, and is pretty mellow now. He's one of the most photogenic monkeys I know, so here are a few photos of him.
And then there's Sidious, my least favorite monkey. Sidious is a grouch, and he has charged me several times. I know how to deal with it, but it still scares me, and it does not inspire any love for this ugly monkey. Sidious has a nasty mouth injury that never healed, so his mouth is always agape, and drool constantly soaks his chin, making him look all the more sinister.There are more adult males, but like I said, I won't show all of them. Here's Camille, my favorite female. She's very friendly, and sometimes ambles over to me and plops down by my side, grunting in a friendly way. Some days I grunt back. I love her bright orange eyes and the wide span of fur around her face. This photo was taken the day after her infant was born- if you look closely, you can see that its umbilical cord is still attached. Michelle is an unusual monkey. Her head is permanently cocked to one side, giving her a slightly psychotic appearance, like she's always listening to the voices in her head. She seems to have some social problems, such as standing on her head when the males mate with her, and then running away screaming when they are finished. Michelle often wanders off on her own, and sometimes appears completely lost. A veterinarian said that it's possible that an ear infection while she was young left her with neck injuries and some brain damage. Another hypothesis is that she actually has Down's Syndrome. Sadly, Michelle recently disappeared, and I fear that her solitary wanderings may have made her vulnerable to the stray dogs that have recently been terrorizing the monkeys.There can be bad macaque mothers just like there are bad human mothers, and Nad is one of those. Typically, she's OK- she's attentive and protective, but sometimes she's a little rough...like when she swings her baby by its tail. But she is the top-ranking female, so no one questions her actions. Whereas the males fight for status, females inherit it, so Nad's mother was also high-ranking, and her daughters will be too.
Catherine is another female who's dear to me. She once broke her hand, and it healed crooked so that she now walks on her wrist. It's a little stomach-turning to watch, but it doesn't appear to pain her as she agilely climbs trees just like everyone else. She had an infant when I first got here, but it soon got badly injured and became paralyzed from the waist down. The infant continued to cling to her underside with its arms, legs dangling pathetically. Catherine did her best to care for the pitiful little thing, and she managed to keep it alive for almost a week before it finally succumbed. I've wondered if her busted hand somehow impaired her ability to care for an infant, but I've never seen her struggle with anything else.And then there are the juveniles. They are so fun- their rambunctious rabble-rousing is nonstop, and they just do the funniest things- like playing in the water and turning into little wet puffballs. Macaques learn to swim at a young age, and are very at home in the water.
And sometimes they do things that are kind of gross, like when Trillian caught a lizard and ripped it apart while munching on its innards.The juveniles are very special to me, because I have painstakingly identified and named them over the past few months. In the photo on the right, three of the juveniles carefully groom my pants. I typically don't let the monkeys touch me, but the juveniles are overflowing with energy, and often sneak up on me when I'm distracted. The tug on my pants, chew on my boots, groom my arms, untie my laces, dig in my backpack pockets, and one time, one of them even leaped onto my lap when I was crouched down to take a photo!
Punk was one of the first juveniles I identified, and he's still my little buddy. Punk is incredibly friendly, and was the first monkey ever to actually touch me. He cautiously walked up to me; then, seeing that I remained still and calm, plunked on the ground in front of me and began gnawing on my hiking boot and pulling on my pants. I have to keep the outside pockets of my backpack empty, because if I turn around, Punk will root around in the pockets, looking for food. Sometimes if I'm not paying attention and he's sitting close to me, he'll reach over and begin grooming my arm. He's definitely one of the most lovable of the bunch.The white above each of the monkeys' eyes is unique. This little guy's white made a heart shape, so I named him Bryan.Kevin is another juvenile to whom I've grown attached. Like Punk, he's very friendly and likes to tug on my pants. He even reaches out to touch the camera or my hands when I try to take photos of him. Kevin was recently badly injured, probably by a car, and was completely unable to use one of his legs for a couple of weeks. He again demonstrated the resilience of the macaques by making a full recovery in under a month, and today he doesn't even limp.
For all that I love the juveniles, there's nothing cuter than an infant macaque- here's Uma's infant, effortlessly adorable as always.Grooming is an important component of macaque society. It helps to reinforce the status hierarchy, to calm everyone down after stressful events, and to strengthen bonds between group members. In this photo, some of the females groom each other on the roof of the Visitor Center. Sometimes the monkeys grooming each other look so relaxed that watching them makes me feel a little sleepy myself.Well, those are some of the monkey highlights. I have a library of macaque photos by now, and these are only a few. More to come!