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A Perfect Place For Monkey Business

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / July 17, 1998



The heart of Bali, a small island off Indonesia in South Asia, is home to macaque monkeys. The monkeys live on the ground and in the tall trees of the sacred monkey forest - about 10 acres of protected land. The animals, some species of which can weigh more than 30 pounds, are important to the Balian people, who practice Hinduism and revere nature. There's even a monkey temple at the edge of the forest.

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About 150 monkeys live on Bali, in three familylike groups. Each group is ruled by a dominant male, which has long, sharp teeth he uses in fighting.

If a monkey wanders into another family's territory, a big noisy fight - louder than a cat fight - will break out. Monkeys will chase each other around, up, and down trees, and roll in the leaves on the ground. Sometimes it's playing, sometimes it's fighting. It's hard for a visitor to tell one from the other.

Macaques eat fruits, grains, insects, and vegetables. Tourists who want to feed the monkeys pay 10 cents to enter the forest. Vendors there sell bananas and peanuts. But let the buyer beware: The monkeys expect to be fed and will sometimes steal bananas from visitors who don't offer dinner fast enough.

If a tourist gets too close or stares too long at a monkey, the animal may bare its teeth and open and close its lips quickly. It looks comic, but it's the monkey's way of looking ferocious. If a tourist doesn't take the hint, a monkey may make a bluff charge as a way to get the onlooker to retreat.

Visitors must watch their sunglasses, pens, and cameras: Monkeys love to snatch objects and run away with them.

Macaques, which have gray or brown fur and reddish faces, have a wider geographical range than any other monkey or ape. Most of the 12 species live in warm areas of southern Asia. They spend hours grooming one another, picking out twigs, insects, or dirt from one another's coats. The animals may or may not have tails.