Wildlife tourists who mistake aggression for kissy-faces in danger of monkey-bites

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2017/06/01/angry-monkeys.html

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I had a roommate with a macaque, she was no joke.
Unless one is committed to really hurting the monkey there is no defense.
It can jump 10, 12 feet through the air and land on your face.


In 2004 my wife and I had the pleasure of travelling to Myanmar. While there we followed the recommendation to visit the historic Mt Popa:

What I wasn’t told was that the place was OVERRUN with macaque monkeys. As we ascended the poo-covered stairs (in bare feet!), we were constantly harried. About 3/4 the way up a big male suddenly jumped on my back. I turned to see what was up and about 6 inches from my face I saw something like this:

Realizing I was a full day away from decent medical care (bus travel is very slow there), I stood dead still. Out of the corner of my eye I saw another figure approach and then heard a whack whack whack sound. The monkey jumped off and I was greeted by a kind old nun with a long bamboo stick. Needless to say, me, my wife, and my stained shorts stuck close to the woman to the top (and back).

Epilogue: before boarding the bus to the capital, we spotted a group of young monks engaging a large pack of macaques with slingshots. It reminded me of classic science fiction where colonists are struggling to keep the wildlife at bay.


Somewhere I have a cell phone photo of me being stalked by a pack of monkeys in near Kuantan in Malaysia. It was a tourist location and the monkeys figured out shopping bags often contain food. One or two monkeys interested in you is cute. A bunch of them focused on you and following closely is scary.

Several cats in that town had no tails. I wondered about that until a local said the monkeys get them. Still surprising. Cats are quick and essentially weaponized muscle.

Some tourists were also stopping their cars, rolling down windows, and offering food. Crazy, because once in a while a monkey will jump into the car with them.


From the article:

(A–B) ‘Aggressive’ or ‘Threat’ face: In the first picture (A), the eyebrows are raised, the
animal stares intently and the mouth is open showing the teeth. In the second picture (B),
the eyebrows are raised, the animal stares intently and the lips are protruded to form a
round mouth;
(C–D) ‘Distressed’ or ‘Submissive’ face: In the first picture ©, the mouth is widely
open, and the animal is yawning. Yawing can be related to distress and anxiety in primates
(Maestripieri et al., 1992). In the second picture (D), the corners of the lips are fully retracted
and the upper and lower teeth are shown;
(E) ‘Friendly’ or ‘Affiliative’ face: In picture (E), the mouth is half open and the lips
slightly protruded. This expression involves a chewing movement and clicking or smacking
of the tongue and lips;
(F) ‘Neutral’ face: In picture (F), the mouth is closed and the overall face is relaxed.


This logic applies to dogs too (often a “smiling” dog is exposing it’s teeth in a “back off” message)

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Of course by that point the monkey is probably committed to really hurting you, so there’s that.


With macaques you should always assume they are going to bite your faces off. Period.

Do not try to kiss wildlife! Do not kiss bears, cougars, snapping turtles or racoons!

You can try to do it only on furry conventions and only with the permission of the fursuit owner.


People travel to encounter wild animals, many of them attempting to closely interact with monkeys, even though this is often prohibited.

So the implication is that wildlife tourists shouldn’t have their faces chewed off?


Yep. Basic rule of thumb: if the animal is showing you its teeth, the next phase involves the animal using them. Animal kinesics =!= human kinesics.


Maybe the monkey’s need to be educated about human facial expressions so they don’t get hurt. Ever think about that? no of course not… always thinking about the hoo mans.

But otters are still ok, right?


Now this has got me thinking about butterfly kisses…

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