As I floated along with the warm, murky current of the Rio Madre de Dios in the shallow waters that lap against Monkey Island’s shore, I strained my eyes to see if I could spot any of the three species of primates that navigate the high reaches of the island’s jungle canopy, but I couldn’t. The monkeys would have been lost to the naked eye in amongst the dense foliage.
A few days ago a group of us landed our covered wooden boat on the fine sandy beach and trekked across it to a narrow trail that took us into a lush jungle of palms, tall broad-leafed evergreen trees and other low-lying jungle flora in hopes we would be able to spot some of the special monkeys that inhabit the island.
One of the main reasons I came to the jungle was to see monkeys. Their playful and naughty nature amuses me so much that I almost want to have one. Honestly, who hasn’t dreamed of owning a pet monkey? Most men I know have mentioned it. Monkeys are like furry little humans. They’re cute when they’re little, you can dress them up and they do funny things. It’s kind of like having a little mini-me side kick, right? Well, it’s true, many would love to own one and some do seize the opportunity if it arises. That is, if the law allows it.
The unfortunate part is that eventually the little, cute, funny and furry human-like being gets bigger, not to mention wilder and naughtier. You’ve heard of Curious George and all the mischief he got into, right? And why do you think the saying, “Quit monkeying around!” came about? Not because monkeys behave well. After all they are animals and ones that need a lot of social interaction with their human parent and ideally with others of their own kind if they are to grow into socially healthy primates.
Monkeys are also messy. They get into things, they are curious, they have short attention spans, they swing around and wreck things and don’t forget, they will need diapers and will need to be toilet trained which is a difficult, or near impossible, task. Oh yeah, and they can display inappropriate behaviour like wanking on their privates at the worst times and even playing with their feces.
The fact is that monkeys are a lot of work and need a great deal of time and commitment otherwise they grow up to become problem monkeys. So, that means you would need to give up many things you like to do that a monkey cannot take part in. What about vacations? Yeah right…never thought about that.
These are things we don’t think about when we see a sweet baby monkey. We only think about how adorable it is and the cool aspects of having one, like dressing it up or how popular you would all of a sudden become with your friends.
When pet monkeys grow up and start becoming more of a nuisance, people either find another home for them, discard them in the forest or worse. Owners have been known to even kill their pet monkey when no other option pans out.
My friend, Maruka, was one of those monkeys who used to have a family, but was discarded when she became a nuisance.
Lucky for her, she now has a home at a jungle lodge in the Amazon rain forest near Puerto Maldonado. There, she has two animal friends including a macaw named Pepe and a cat. Plus, she has a constant stream of new friends every few days as tourists come and go.
Maruka and I became quick friends on day one. We played together on her rope swing and she lay with me in the hammock. When I was typing on my laptop, she sat on the arm of my chair, stared at the screen and tapped the keys with her human-like black fingers. She cuddled on my lap, her fur all wet and dirty, and when I tried to get up she hung tightly onto my waist with her thumbless hands. Ah, she needed some cuddle time, so I sat back down and let her have her sleep. She curled up and closed her eyes.
These are the sweet aspects of Maruka, but I have seen her mischievous side too. She caught sight of my room key that I left unattended by a stump. Then she grabbed it with her tail and high-tailed it for the nearest tree. Luckily, I caught up with her before she had a chance to climb any higher. She knows when she’s got something she shouldn’t and when you try to take it away from her she quickly runs away, makes a few oofing noises and swings or climbs away from you using her five handy limbs. Imagine the damage a monkey could do with something like a box of matches. Well, that’s exactly one of the things I had to try and retrieve from Maruka as she jumped back and oofed away at me. She also likes to torment her feline friend; however he seems to take it all in good stride.
Not every monkey that is rescued from a bad situation can live at a comfy jungle lodge like Maruka, but luckily there is a more ideal situation for them…Monkey Island.
Monkey Island is a place where rehabilitated monkeys were brought at one time to start a new life and they certainly have. They have adapted to their island habitat and live a relatively wild life aside from the tour groups that lure them in with fruit, but it only works when fruit is not so abundant on the island. When it is, tour groups may not get even a glimpse of them. Lucky for us, the monkeys were hungry.
Three monkey species currently exist on Monkey Island including the small, quick spider monkey, the clever brown capuchin monkey and the white-faced capuchin monkey.
I craned my neck to get a glimpse of two species climbing down branches and vines from the high canopy, the brown and white-faced capuchin’s. The brown capuchin took some fruit and began banging it on a tree trunk to open it. They are the most clever of the monkey species here. We were told not to bring any valuables since the monkeys’ curiosity gets the better of them and they like to borrow things for a time which doesn’t always coincide with your agenda.
Attempts at introducing other species to the island have been made, however the current monkey species have become very territorial and kill any new comers. As a result, no new species are introduced any longer.
Fortunately, there are other options, such as rehabilitation centres, for monkeys that have been abused or discarded by their owners. However, maybe it’s best to think twice about adopting one in the first place 😉
Check out my Puerto Maldonado jungle Flickr gallery.