A grumpy monkey’s bid for freedom

When we visited Japan’s famous snow monkeys high up in the Nagano hills in the summer of 2012, I was immediately drawn to one solitary character.  While the other macaques frolicked around the waterfall or soaked in their hot tub, this grumpy monkey just sat by himself looking at the world around him with disdain.
Last week, the news broke that a Japanese macaque had made a desperate bid for freedom from an animal prison, the Kingussie Highland Wildlife Park, in the Scottish Highlands. I immediately thought of my old friend in Nagano who, I imagined, would be cheering on his fugitive relative.

Macaques are very sociable animals. The Nagano mob had about fifty members when we visited but clearly some monkeys are more sociable than others. The prison warden in Kingussie claims the escapee had fled after a dispute over breeding rights in the compound but I prefer to think he just got fed up life in confinement and decided to branch out on his own.

Kingussie Kong, as he is now known, has already demonstrated that he is more than capable of life on his own. Soon after his escape, Kong was spotted nibbling nuts under the bird feeder in the garden of local villager Carl Nagle. The monkey looked at Mr Nagle with a “sheepish” expression and disappeared into the trees.

The hills around Kingussie are quite similar to those in Nagano so Kong should have no trouble adapting to his new environment. Of course, if he gets bored with life on the run, he can always return the creature comforts of the enclosure. But it should be a matter for Kong to decide. There is no need to dispatch a posse armed with heat seeking drones to track him down.

In the Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano, which has been operating for sixty years, the macaques come and go as they please. The local humans were kind enough to create a hot spring for the macaques, which provides a welcome sanctuary in the winter, and attendants provide them with daily treats.  It is not a bad life.

The macaque population in Nagano is very healthy and so there is absolutely no need to transplant a group of them over to the highlands of Scotland for the amusement of humans. If humans want to see the residents of Jigokudani, all they have to do is go to the live webcam on site when the treats are given out.

In the end, it was more bird feeder treats that led to Kingussie Kong’s capture. He was spotted snacking in another garden and shot with a tranquilizer dart before he could make his getaway. He was checked over by the vet, found to be in perfectly good health, and returned to his relatives. Whatever the next instalment brings, I hope Kong will be treated with the respect he deserves, and if he decides to go walk about, just let him be.

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