Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Two minutes with a wild monkey

I had my first encounter with a wild monkey on the weekend.

I was walking across a bridge, minding my own business, when I saw a flash of fur out of the corner of my eye.

It took a few seconds for my brain to process what I was seeing. A monkey sitting on the bridge. I did a whiplash-inducing double take. “Holy crap! There’s a monkey sitting on the bridge!”

I pulled out my camera and slowly tiptoed toward it. I didn’t want to get too close. It was unnerving to come face to face with a monkey without a cage between us. Also, the monkey was not exactly cute and cuddly. It had a red face and pinched features, which made it look mean and angry.

A voice in my head repeated itself over and over: “Don’t look the monkey in the eye! Don’t look the monkey in the eye!” I had read somewhere that monkeys will attack you if you look directly into their eyes. Or maybe that was bears. Either way, I wasn’t going to take any chances.

So with my eyes looking everywhere but at the monkey, I inched forward and blindly took a picture.

By this point, the monkey was attracting a small crowd (“small crowd” meaning “four people”). Someone threw some crackers on the ground and the monkey jumped off the railing and started eating them.

However, the crowd seemed to be more interested in watching me take pictures of the monkey than in the monkey itself. They were looking at me with the same amused expression I get when I see tourists taking pictures of raccoons and squirrels in Stanley Park. (“Ha, ha. Look at the tourist taking pictures of that nasty-ass monkey like it’s some sort of exotic and beautiful animal. Ha, ha.”)

Suddenly, without warning, the monkey charged toward me. I had a terrifying vision of it leaping onto my face and digging its claws into my hair.

I shrieked and jumped out of the way. I also managed to snap a photo at the same time.

The monkey kept running and disappeared into the woods. And that was the end of my first encounter with a wild monkey.

Postscript: I thought it was a pretty unique experience until I went home and googled “Japanese monkeys” and found out Japan is overrun by monkeys. Here’s an excerpt from a New York Times article about the monkey population explosion:

Rural villages sometimes post bounties of up to $1,000 for the leader of a particularly destructive monkey troop. In cities, sensational news reports about monkeys "molesting women and children" have stirred police officers to form monkey posses, patrolling streets with nets and bananas tied to poles.

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