Letter 7: Of Humans and Other Primates: Snare Traps

You'll remember that I sent you a photo of one of the little Vervet Monkeys in the Serengeti setting off on a candy-bar raid at our hotel there. Later in our trip, we found somebody even more capable of raiding tourist rooms.

When we got to the slopes of Mt. Kenya, we encountered a bigger (and more intelligent) primate, the Sykes Monkey. Our guide said, "That's a Sykes Monkey. Remember its face and don't let it into your room. It's bad news!"

Actually, they were quite charming and cuddly-looking, but they are experts at getting food from tourists. When we went to our rooms and unpacked our things, we each had a Sykes Monkey peering in through the window watching to see what we were unpacking in case there were anything edible. If so, they tried to get in when we opened the door to our balcony. None of us fell for that, however, as we'd been warned that they would tear our rooms apart.

Once we'd unpacked, we went up to the rooftop terrace, where we were joined by more monkeys looking for food. It was tea time, however, so they knew to go downstairs to the tea table and grab a piece of cake to bring back up to the roof to share with their friends.

Sykes Monkey
Sykes Monkey
Mt. Kenya
(Click on any image to enlarge it)

At breakfast the next morning, they were looking through the diningroom window to see what we were eating.

We learned that if people take a cup of coffee with sugar in it up to the rooftop terrace, the monkeys will grab it and sit on the roof drinking it (looking rather like a row of little old men). When they are done with the coffee, they just let the cups drop to the ground, which rather annoys the hotel staff.

Looking for trouble
Looking for trouble
Mt. Kenya

These are the sorts of interactions one finds wherever intelligent animals (including the larger birds) are exposed to human beings. They know a good thing when they see it, and "tame" themselves readily.

There are dark sides to this for the animals, however. Often the food they filch from humans isn't really good for them. And, if they steal too much from people who can't afford to lose any food, there is retaliation. In the case of the Sykes Monkeys, we began to note that several of those around the lodge had lost limbs to snare traps set by the local farmers. We saw one monkey who had lost both arms and another who had lost a leg and his tail. (Tails are very important to monkeys, you know, as they use them for balance when jumping through the trees. But these are Old World Monkeys and, unlike the New World Monkeys, they do not have prehensile tails, so they can't hang by them.)

One benefit of the easy pickings at the lodge was that the monkeys who had lost vital limbs were doing just fine. They were all fat and sleek and had no apparent trouble getting around, though I suspect that if they had to support themselves entirely in the wild they would be in trouble.

Seeing them brought to mind a video I saw recently on the BBC that you might find interesting. In it, wild chimpanzees find a snare trap in the forest and dismantle it on purpose, which I found rather satisfying. That's probably something that takes too much intelligence for the Sykes Monkeys ever to master, however.

Unfortunately, our trip didn't take us to the places where chimpanzees live in Central Africa. I should very much like to see them in the wild someday.

Aunt Melinda