My earliest memories as a toddler were that of crawling around the floor playing and even sleeping with the family dogs and cats. By the age of 12 I was running my own wildlife rescue centre, hand rearing birds that had dropped out of the nest or injured rabbits or hedgehogs. I think it is this lifelong close association with animals that gives me the ability to handle animals that other people would not dare to go near. Certainly I have a close connection with monkeys that constantly amaze people. My wife kindly just tells everyone that it is simply because I am a throw back!
An example of this ability to bond with monkeys for instance is a Langur monkey we now call Elfin. She came in from a road accident at about 18months to 2 years of age. Obviously being a wild monkey she had never been handled or touched by humans. Because she was in shock I had her cage on my bed to calm her down and slept the first night with my arm in her cage. She was in my bedroom for 4 nights when a stupid volunteer ignored the sign on the door saying lose monkey and let her escape. She went to the top of a tall tree and we were all devastated as she would be killed by the large troop of wild Langurs that we are lucky enough to share our property with. In desperation, and what seemed at the time sheer stupidity, I went to the bottom of the tree and called her at which she immediately ran down the tree and jumped into my arms! This is so incredulous that I would not even tell this story if it was not for the fact that I had a dozen witnesses, but no one was more surprised than me!
However, I also get things badly wrong! For instance I was asked to advise on the care of monkeys at the Visakha SPCA. They had two fully grown Rhesus Macaques, 1 male and 1 female, which were not handled, living in separate pens next to each other. The male had been sterilized so I said they should put them in together because monkeys need company. How wrong one can be! They opened the door and the male walked in at which the female launched an immediate vicious attack knocking the male completely off his feet. To the shock and horror of the staff I was in the cage almost before the female hit. Somehow I managed to pin the male to the ground with my foot whilst I grabbed the female by the back of the neck. I threw her off whist in a split second I pushed the male back in to his pen with my foot. As I did this the female ran in and bit me hard in the back of the leg and as a result I had blood running down my leg. I then simply sat down with my back against the wire. I think the staff were worried that I was about to pass out. However, imagine their surprise when I called the female to me and within less than a minute she was on my lap having a cuddle! Another incident in which I got badly bitten was when I rescued a Bonnet Macaque we call Basanti. She was in a very nervous state and had been very badly treated. When I got her home I sat with her on a lead and finally I persuaded her to climb up onto my lap. She sat there for a minute or two and then leapt at me and gave me one of the most painful bites I have ever received. She bit me through the bottom lip with her lower teeth going into my chin and bit down hard. My mouth just exploded into a mass of blood and my chest was simply covered. The last thing one should ever do when bitten like this is to panic because it can only make a bad injury a hundred times worse. So I simply sat there with blood pouring out of me stroking her. After what seemed like a lifetime but was probably only a few minutes she let go and calmly climbed up onto my shoulder and started grooming me. From that second on she has idolized me and her greatest joy in life is coming to me for a cuddle.
For some reason I have never found a female monkey that has been brought up in captivity that I have not almost instantly been able to handle. The main thing with female monkeys is not to let them intimidate you. They will often come at you with their mouth open which is a typical threat posture which is simply saying, "I'm going to kill you!" When I am threatened by a female in this way I simply go straight to them shouting something like, "Who the hell do you think you are!" At the same time I point my finger directly at their mouth and take it to about an inch away. Amazingly I have never had my finger bitten and they always back down! Well they have so far! If you meet me and I have lost a finger you know I met one that didn't!
This is not a strategy for males because males over about 5 years of age will attack simply because they want to take over as the Alpha Male. Also the above does not work for women as female monkeys generally will attack women once they get to about 4 years simply due to dominance, they want to ensure they are higher up the troop in seniority than other females. However I really would not recommend anyone to try doing what I do as one has to be extremely confident to get away with it, or as my wife would tell you extremely arrogant and stupid!
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Jo's blog is an insight in to the day to day problems of caring for these highly intelligent wonderful creatures. Often funny and amusing, but also, at times heartbreaking Latest Blog Entries