This Monkey Mafia is Running a Ransom Racket

Fagjun | Published 2017-05-27 01:14

A monkey mafia composed of long-tailed macaques has claimed an Indonesian temple as their territory.

Macaques at Uluwatu Temple on the island of Bali have apparently been running their ransom racket for years. The monkeys would grab things like hats, caps, glasses, cameras, and even cash from unsuspecting visitors and tourists. Temple workers have to offer food to get the monkeys to drop their hostage items. The monkeys would then grab their ransom and run away.

It's an offer the monkeys can't refuse. After all, hats, cameras, and cash don't serve any purpose for the monkey mafia other than as bargaining chips. While this kind of behavior may not be all that surprising in primates that live in tourist areas, it's actually quite rare.

Thuggish Behavior

Scoping out his next mark?
[Photo via Ecology Asia]

If you're just a visitor to the temple, you may just consider this thuggish behavior to be a quirk of the place. However, locals claim that this has this little quirk can get a lot more interesting once you delve deeper into the macaques' behavior.

Primates are quite smart. They can learn how to barter, and they can even tell when they're getting screwed over in a deal. However, primates who have learned how barter were often captive animals. Scientists haven't observed this behavior in wild animals—until they discovered the Uluwatu Temple monkey mafia, that is.

Researchers spent four months studying the behavior of four groups of macaques at the temple. Two of the groups spent more time around tourists than the other two groups. The researchers found that macaques that had spent more time around tourists robbed and bartered more. Young males were also more prone to engaging in stealing.

During the four months of observation, the researchers were able to record 201 instances of stealing and bartering. They made note of which monkey stole which item, which group the monkey belonged to, and how successful it was in collecting its ransom.

There is thus evidence to suggest that the macaques were able to learn this behavior. Researchers also say that the monkeys have passed the behavior on from generation to generation. Each generation became bolder than the last. This means that monkeys learned the behavior by observing one another. In fact, when a fifth group of macaques began living in the temple, they began to exhibit the behavior as well.

What the Monkey Mafia Can Tell Us About Ourselves

Better watch your stuff
[Photo by John S. Ascher]

It's interesting to note that this behavior doesn't occur in other tourist spots that primates frequent. There are other temples that tourists frequently visit, but the primates living at those temples don't steal things to hold for ransom.

This research can contribute to further studies on primate psychology. Other researchers can gain more insight into how primates pass information on, how they view their own actions, and how they view their future.

What's more, further research into this matter can help us gain insight into how human cognition developed. With more information about the antics of the monkey mafia, we might learn about how bartering developed in human populations. Let's just hope the researchers remember to hold on to their hats—literally.

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