Sunday, January 13, 2013

Thieving Monkeys and Tips on Handling Them

Crab-Eating Macaques on Monkey Beach

Traveling and living abroad changes a person. With each experience, you learn a little more about yourself. You uncover things you never knew. I, for one, have figured out that I don't like monkeys.

When I lived in Texas, I thought monkeys were cute whenever I'd see them at the zoo or on TV. Admit it. If you're one of my friends in America who keep Liking my monkey-related Facebook status updates, you probably feel this way, too. The closest I came to knowing someone with up close monkey encounters under her belt was my cousin who conducted psychological studies on whether monkeys and young children rationalize preferences.

Monkeys were adorable. I picked a Monkey Beach theme for my daughter's third birthday party. Little did I know that, one day, I'd live a short drive and hike from an honest-to-goodness Monkey Beach. Have I mentioned that I decked out her bathroom with monkey face towels, toothbrush holder, and bath rug? I loved monkeys.

My naive days before I had experience with wild monkeys
(That's a Rice Krispie Treat monkey covered in chocolate clay. Delicious!)

Then, I moved to Malaysia.

The first time we saw wild monkeys, we were at Penang's Youth Park wading pools. I can hear our squeals of excitement on the iPhone video we shot of them. Little did I realize that while we were filming our wild animal encounter, the other half of the monkey gang was going through my stuff. I glanced up to see them in my beach bag. They had my clothes in their tiny, simian hands. No way was I driving home in my swimsuit! Like a scene, reminiscent of Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina, I shook my finger and cried out, "You monkeys, you! You give me back my shirt!" Thank goodness they dropped everything.

Caps for Sale
A cautionary children's tale

A few weeks later, the park's monkey thieves got into my friend's purse. They had her cash out of her wallet, her credit cards, and her keys. Frankly, I think they're some sort of crime syndicate. They loot your bags, and the next thing you know, there are unapproved charges for bushels of bananas on your credit card bill. Luckily, my friend did not have to walk home with empty pockets since they dropped her belongings, too.

Tip: Keep your stuff zipped up in a bag too heavy for monkeys to carry off. 

Keeping backpacks guarded on Monkey Beach

Another friend stayed at the Club Med on the eastern side of Malaysia. She hadn't seen her husband in months, so they were in one room, and her girls were in the one next door. Late one night, she heard a knock. Her girls needed her! She threw open the door, but it wasn't one of her offspring. It was a monkey wanting to gain entrance.

Tip: Use the peephole to determine if the knocking is by friend, foe, or monkey.

At the Youth Park
The monkey went after the scooters when we told the kids to grab their shoes before the monkeys did.

When yet another friend's parents were visiting from England, she thought an outing at the Penang Botanical Garden would be nice. But she cautioned her folks about the monkeys. "Don't worry," said her mum. "I'm sure they wouldn't let them out of they were dangerous." Whaaaa?? No one "lets them out." They're wild!

When it saw me, the one on the right took an aggressive stance and looked ready to leap.

Tip: If you feed the monkeys, be prepared for them to throng to you. And ask yourself if that's really what you want.

These monkeys are clever. They know that humans equal food.

This one has just spotted my water bottle and is lunging for it.

While visiting the nearby island of Langkawi, my friends were dismayed to see how littered and trashy the jetty was. As they were getting ready to get back on the boat, their daughter bought a can of soda. One of the monkeys in the area saw the can and decided to have it. After being chased by the monkey for a bit, the girl decided she really didn't need the soda after all and dropped it. That monkey thief guzzled it down then tossed the empty can aside. Ah, that explains the trash. The Green Earth movement hasn't reached the monkey kingdom, yet.

Tip: If you don't want to share your food, hide it from the monkeys.

When I was at Monkey Beach last weekend, I got hungry and bought a bunch of bananas. Then, I spotted the monkey nearby. My thoughts no longer lean towards thinking that they're cute and a good decorating motif. Faced with a flesh-and-blood, wild monkey, my first thoughts are, "Oh man, I just wanted to sit and eat my bananas. Now, I have to hide it from the monkey." Cue resigned sigh. Did these thoughts ever occur to me in Texas? No! Like I said. Traveling and living abroad changes you.

Attempting to sneak the bananas past the monkey while it looks the other way

Tip: Taking a picture with monkeys crawling all over you at a zoo or sanctuary is one thing. Letting wild monkeys climb all over you is another matter. Is it really worth the risk of them biting you and having to interrupt your vacation for rabies shots?

But I still harbor some of my old affection for them. Don't you think these monkey pairs are sweet?

Dusky Leaf Monkeys at the The Tropical Spice Garden
Mamas and babies at the Penang Botanical Garden

Want more Travel Tips? Check out Suitcases and Sippycups and Walking On Travels for Travel Tips Tuesday.


  1. You have some great monkey shots there! They used to invade our apartment all of the time when we lived a little further out of town. So sneaky and brazen!

    1. I am so glad that I don't have to worry about monkeys sneaking into our condo.

  2. Hilarious! Although I haven't had the long experience with monkeys as you have, I did encounter a few vile and aggressive ones on the mount of Gibraltar. One time with the monkeys was enough.

  3. I'm not sure I can be as patient or even have enough courage to be near monkeys as you. I let my kids experience the whole monkey encounter with my husband during a port stop in Honduras last year while I watched from the outside. I've always had a fear of things crawling on me. These monkeys sure sound like real pests though. Curious George stuffed animals I can handle but not sure about them in real life. Hope you had an awesome Oz trip. Happy New Year!

  4. Wow! I never thought about the monkeys attacking stuff. Thanks for sharing. :)

  5. Okay, this was really, really funny. Funny, because it was happening to someone else. I don't think I could ever get used to the possibility of a monkey knocking on my door. Yes, there are definitely things you don't consider when living in Texas.:)

  6. Hysterical post. You know what I think of when I see a monkey though? Rabies. I worked in East Timor for a short while and it was not uncommon to have to send Aussies back home to receive rabies preventative medication after they received a bite from what they thought was a "little cutie". Love photos of monkeys, don't ever want them near me.

  7. Aww, leaf monkeys are really adorable. And more well-mannered than macaques.


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