Lopburi, Thailand, grapples with a surging monkey inhabitants
Lopburi, Thailand (CNN) – It is Friday afternoon on a public holiday in Thailand in September, and locals are working in the small town of Lopburi.
Borrowing? About 4,500 macaques feed on crabs roaming the streets of the old, many of the Khmer suburbs of Phra Prang Sam Yod – aka Monkey Temple – in the center of the city.
Non-traditional food monkeys wait for visitors to buy bags of fruit, seeds, nuts and – their favorite – sweet drinks from one of the vendors in the parking lot, railway tracks and nearby streets.
Patience is not a function of macaques. Some quickly climb over the bodies of the visitors to grab their goodies and run away.
Others steal bags that hang from the hands of strangers, seeds that fall to the ground while others rush to take their share.
Nearby, visitors from Bangkok chase after a monkey that has seized its two glasses, which the animal quickly falls into when it realizes it isn’t healthy.
A macaque drink from a plastic container in front of the Lopburi Prang Sam Yod temple in June.
MLADEN ANTONOV / AFP / AFP via Getty Photos
But marketers are familiar with their intelligence, and they have ways to store it.
“How do we change? We just sell our stuff as strange, but when they come around, trying to steal things, we’ll use a sling and pretend to shoot,” says Anekchart, a fruit vendor near the temple.
“They’ll run away. We don’t have to put guns in anymore.”
How did they get there?
Phra Prang Sam Yod was built in the 13th century in the highlands. Originally a Hindu temple built in the original Bayon style of Khmer architecture, it later became a Buddhist temple.
As the town grew around the area, forest monkeys remained.
And the locals did not complain. The macaques are believed to be the living representations of the Hindu god Hanuman, who are seen as symbols of good fortune.
But few today feel that way.
Although monkeys have been found in the area, placing the city on a map of the world’s tourist attractions, the growing population has made it difficult to find them.
Narongporn Doodduem, director of the department of Thailand’s National Parks and Wildlife, told CNN Travel that it has started tracking population growth in 2018.
By the end of September 2020, there are now 9,054 crab-eating macaques – also known as long-line macaques – in Lopburi district, with 4,635 in the same city.
Narongporn says it is impossible to deny that the increase in population in recent years has “ruined the lives of those living in it.”
The proboscis monkey is known for its bravery, entering homes and businesses to steal goods, and tearing everything from oil jars to window panes, leaving trash behind them.
“People will no longer be able to use rainwater harvested from their roofs due to monkey droppings, and many will not grow crops because they are polluted by monkeys,” says Narongporn.
The coronavirus has only aggravated the problem for a long time.
With Thailand now closed to foreign visitors, monkeys living in tourist destinations – formerly accustomed to daily festivals – have to deal with local and weekend activities.
“There are three groups of monkeys,” explains Manus Wimuktipan, secretary of the Lopburi Monkey Foundation.
“They live in an abandoned movie theater, near the Muangthong Hotel and in the Prang Sam Yod area where tourists live. Apart from the three groups, there are small groups that spread throughout the town.”
Each group defends its role critically, he says.
This is what happened in March. According to Manus, “this happened because the monkeys from the three groups saw a man bring bottles of sweet milk. And each group wanted them because they liked such a drink. And that was the beginning of a terrible fight.”
Officials say I drink sugary drinks and other unhealthy foods which is a major part of all the problems. And not all are given directly to them either.
“Monkeys are waiting for litter in shops and shops where people throw away junk food and snacks,” says Manus. “They’re starting to eat people’s food because it’s delicious.”
A veterinarian protects monkeys in Lopburi on June 21, 2020.
MLADEN ANTONOV / AFP / AFP via Getty Photos
In addition to decaying monkeys’ teeth, these sweet foods and beverages also enable them to reproduce more frequently.
“I have tried to educate visitors and locals about the importance of not feeding monkeys a diet high in sugar and sugar – this has contributed to a significant increase in population in Lopburi,” says Narongporn.
“Normally, proboscis monkeys are able to reproduce once a year because of the limited food available to them in nature. But city monkeys feed regularly and that is why they are able to reproduce twice a year.”
In an effort to address population growth, the region recently completed its major birth control program.
“This year we gave birth to 1,200 monkeys in Lopburi (916 of them were in the city), a new record. We usually produce about 400 monkeys a year,” says Narongporn.
He received complaints for many years, he says, but it was not easy for everyone to have one page on how to best deal with the problem.
This year, however, support has expanded.
“I used to get a lot of criticism from monkey lovers every time we tried to get in to get rid of the monkeys,” he says.
“Some want to evict all these monkeys from the city of Lopburi, but the problem is where do you move them? Who will take care of them? What will they do if they die or spread the disease? It would be like throwing someone’s garbage in someone’s house.
“But now it has changed. I am receiving a lot of support from local people – including tourists – to tackle the problem consistently.”
Monkeys jump to visit visitors at the annual “Monkey Buffet” in Lopburi on November 27, 2016.
TANG CHHIN SOTHY / AFP / AFP via Getty Images
Although proboscis monkeys may pose a challenge to the local population, they still celebrate as a local.
Officials have confirmed to CNN Travel that the Monkey Buffet Festival will take place in Phra Prang Sam Yod on November 29, as the country has not reported any Covid-19 infections for several weeks.
As part of the festival, the city distributes food and beverages for the monkeys, an event that year-round attracts local and foreign visitors.
Living with monkeys
The owners of the Lopburi car shop have learned to get along with monkeys.
Karla Cripps / CNN
Not everyone is struggling to fit in with the apes.
Employees at one car shop across the street from the “Monkey Temple” have learned to change and enjoy the macaques.
When we enter a store, a few monkeys are quietly sitting on the bins and shelves. Small macaques lie on a red cloth over the counter.
Pathitpan Tuntiwong, 63, is the owner. He was born in the village, and is said to be sympathetic to the animals.
His family feeds them daily, and allows the frail little monkeys – “out of their group,” he says – to enter his shop during the day, some until he hangs the man’s coat and does his job.
“We have taken their land, and that is why the crisis is continuing,” Pathitpan said.
“Their numbers have increased dramatically. It has reached the point where people can no longer afford this. I have been living in this place for over 60 years. Little by little I have been preventing them from leaving my house and constantly changing.”
“They just don’t know where to find the source of food. There are no trees around, no springs. Their lives are bad. We are helping as much as we can.”
Macaque pretends to be at home inside a car dealership in Lopburi.
Karla Cripps / CNN
Speaking to us, Pathitpan was distracted in the middle of the sentence as a disturbing incident took place on the way in front of his shop. A pack of monkeys has jumped out of the back of a moving car, and is about to start throwing a pile of large pots and other utensils.
The occupants of the car get out and move the animals, not trying to intimidate them.
“Obviously he didn’t come from here,” laughs Pathitpan. “People in our neighborhood know better than driving on a street full of cars.”