In just the past few weeks, wild monkeys have attacked at least 58 people in and around the city of Yamaguchi in southwestern Japan, and no one seems to know exactly why, according to a report from the Associated Press. “I have never seen anything like this my entire life,” city official Masato Saito told the AP on Wednesday. Things have gotten so bad that Yamaguchi city hall has assembled a special unit to tranquilize and capture the primates.
So far, there have been no serious injuries but victims have incurred scratches and bites all over their bodies, according to a report from CNN. And the number of confirmed attacks has increased two-fold in less than a week. The monkeys have targeted people of all ages, from toddlers to the elderly.“They are so smart, and they tend to sneak up and attack from behind, often grabbing at your legs,” Saito further said to the AP.
And, even though there hasn’t been any severe injuries yet, attacks like this are serious business. Monkeys are known to actually kill people in India.
The monkeys involved in Japan are macaques, or “snow monkeys”, which are widely known on the internet for pictures of the primates relaxing in hot springs. Yet the ones attacking people seem anything but relaxed. The best advice for staying safe if approached by a macaque, from the AP:
When confronted by a monkey, the instructions are: Do not look them in the eye, make yourself look as big as possible, such as by spreading open your coat, then back away as quietly as possible without making sudden moves, according to Saito.
Initially, authorities believed that a single macaque could be responsible for the spate of violence. However, it’s since become clear that that’s not the case. One male monkey, known to have attacked someone, was captured by the tranquilizer team on Tuesday and euthanised. Yet more attacks have been reported since that one monkey was killed.
Additionally, early attacks took place inside, after at least one monkey entered peoples’ homes and a school through open windows and doors. However, now that people are on alert and ensuring buildings are more secure, people are increasingly facing monkey assaults outside, according to CNN. For instance, one woman was attacked while hanging laundry outside her home, said the AP.
Though the cause of the attacks remains unclear, it could be the culmination of years of increasing conflict between people and the macaques. “In Japan, more and more monkeys are coming into homes and farms, damaging crops,” said Mieko Kiyono, a wildlife management researcher at Kobe University, to CNN. “Local governments have measures to chase the monkeys away — for example, they may use fireworks to chase them back into their habitat.”
But that sort of response may be stoking hostility among the macaque community, Kiyono told CNN. Like all primates, these monkeys are social and learn from one another. “Monkeys who learn to react against humans will join other herds, leading to more monkeys that do not fear humans,” Kiyono said. Maybe, in Yamaguchi, the macaques have finally reached their limit.