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Animal encounters

Where to spot monkeys in the wild

Clive Wedderburn December 13, 2017

Monkeys don’t eat bananas. Shock. Horror! No, they don’t, at least not in the wild. That’s because bananas are cultivated and wild monkeys do not usually live in cultivated areas. They do eat a variety of fruit, insects and smaller creatures, but not bananas (and don’t get me started on monkey-nuts!) So if they don’t eat bananas, what do they eat and where can you spot these capering, cutesy and endlessly mischievous monkeys? Where do they hang out (boom-tish)? Read on, for the best places to spot monkeys, in the wild, and even the not so wild.

Monkey fast facts:

  • The collective noun for monkeys is tribe, barrel, troop, mission or harem
  • Monkeys are split into two groups – old world monkeys and new world monkeys
  • New world monkeys are found in Central and South America
  • Old world monkeys are found across Africa, Asia and Indonesia
  • The fastest monkey in the world is the patas. It can travel at speeds in excess of 34 miles per hour
  • In 1949, Albert, a rhesus macaque, became the first mammal in space.

New World Monkeys

Brazil

The golden lion tamarin (leontopithecus rosalia) is 20-25 centimetres in length, and beautiful it may be, it’s also a fierce defender of its territory, with scent and call songs to mark its territory. Pregnancy lasts approximately 4-5 months and all members of the troop will look after the young. Finding them is like looking for a needle in a very large haystack. But start near the Atlantic coastal forests of Brazil with an Adventure in the Amazon tour and you might just get lucky.

Colombia

The pygmy marmoset (cebuella pygmaea) weighs in roughly the same as a deck of cards. It is the world’s smallest primate. They might be tiny, easily fitting into the palm of your hand, but they can jump 15 feet into the air to avoid danger and catch prey. If there is a more beautiful looking creature anywhere in existence, this writer has yet to lay eyes on it. And yet, like many of its monkey cousins, they look cute, until you try to invade their territory.

Costa Rica

Howler Monkey

Although the howler monkey is one of the loudest animals on the planet, the louder its call, the smaller its testicles and the lower its sperm count. The mantled howler monkey (alouatta palliata) is the only species of howler found in Costa Rica. It also has the quietest call and the largest testicles. Head to Manuel Antonio National Park for a viewing.  

Ecuador

Squirrel or skull monkey

Squirrel monkeys (saimiri) are easily recognisable by their German name, skull monkeys, distinguished by the marking on the fur around their faces. These Ecuadorian monkeys are one of the smallest of the new world monkeys. Omnivores, they eat mostly leaves, buds, nuts, insects, lizards and eggs. They are clever and have large brains when compared to their bodies and have evolved to stand guard while other members of the troop are busy feeding.  

Old World Monkeys

More monkey facts:

  • The smartest monkey is the capuchin monkey, often depicted as the companion to the organ grinder and frequently used in movies such as Raiders of the Lost Ark, Pirates of the Caribbean and Ace Ventura – Pet Detective  
  • Apes, gibbons, lemurs, and chimpanzees are not classed as monkeys
  • The monkey is the ninth animal of the Chinese zodiac and people born under this sign are said to be intelligent, creative and energetic
  • Monkeys live anywhere between 10–50 years old

India

If there is one animal that has become integrated into human culture then it’s the rhesus macaque (macaca mulatta).  These canny creatures can adapt to most environments and thrive in human habitations including bustling cities such as Jaipur, especially when the population view the animal as sacred and go so far as to build them a temple in their honour: Galta Temple. Get close to the rhesus macaque on a tour of India’s Golden Triangle.

Thailand

You don’t have to stray far from the tourist trail in Thailand before you come across monkeys in Thailand. Just plan a holiday in Krabi and Railay Beach, or head to the limestone karsts and the beaches of Phi Phi. These are excellent places to spot monkeys. The long tailed macaques (macaca fascicularis) commonly found here were originally forest-dwellers, but they are equally at home along the coastlines of Thailand foraging for barnacles and oysters. When they find them, they use stones as tools to pry them open. They’re also good swimmers, who will often enter the water to escape predators.

Tanzania

Vervet monkeys (chlorocebus pygerythrus) are found in eastern and southern Africa preferring grasslands and forests close to water. They are strong climbers and leapers who spend most of their lives in the tree-tops in troops of 10-50. Their natural enemies include leopards, baboons, pythons, crocodiles and eagles. Younger females not of an age to reproduce will often take a great interest in the offspring of males and have been known to form lasting relationships with their young, thus increasing the social bond of the entire troop. For the best opportunity to see vervets monkeying around – try a spectacular Bush Rover Safari Experience near the Mara River.

Cameroon

The mandrill (mandrillus sphinx) found in Cameroon, was originally thought to be a baboon, but qualifies as a distinct species of its own. The largest of all monkeys, they can weigh up to 35 kilograms and have fangs that are larger than a lion’s. Baring these fangs is, however, a sign of greeting between members of the troop. Despite their size they are shy creatures, ground-dwellers who forage for fruit, roots, reptiles, and amphibians. The alpha male will have the strongest colours. He is aided by the females, who will chase off any pretender without the required testosterone to ensure the survival of the troop.

Japan

The Japanese macaque (macaca fuscata) also known as the snow monkey is the northernmost monkey in the world, able to live in conditions of five degrees Celsius (cold enough to freeze the tail off a brass monkey). In Yakushima, the macaque will share its food with local deer in exchange for a ride. Talk about the monkey on your back! Enough of the jokes. Snow monkeys have strict class systems. They are born into hierarchy. Daughters will assume the class of their mothers, outranking any others, including their aunts. A highly intelligent species, they have been known to wash their food before eating.  

Sri Lanka

Only found on the beautiful and fascinating island of Sri Lanka, the toque macaque (macaca sinica) gets its name from the hair on top its head which looks like a brimless hat called a toque. In Sinhalese this monkey is known as rilewa or rilawa.  Troops have a strict hierarchy, they can live up 35 years and they are as happy living on the ground as they are in the trees. Gestation is usually between 5–6 months and females carry their young for 2 months. The mother will continue to forage a mere 20 minutes after giving birth. The toque macaque is widely spread throughout Sri Lanka. They are split into three sub-species: the highland, the wet zone and the dry zone toque macaque.  Our tip is to head straight for Yala National Park. If you see some, look out for leopards too – they consider toque macaques to be the ideal dinner.

Borneo

The proboscis monkey (nasalis larvatus) so called because of its prominent nose, which, incidentally, only males possess. It is thought that they use them to attract females because of the resonance their noses give to their mating calls. They are excellent swimmers with web feet and, naturally, crocodiles are their main enemy. Baby monkeys have a blue tint to their faces while adults have pot bellies because of their chambered stomachs. Spot these beautiful, fascinating creatures plus the elusive orangutan on a Nature of Borneo tour.

Bali

There are many reasons to visit Ubud, the cultural heart of this spiritual island. Iconic rice terraces, rainforests rising across the hillsides and arts and crafts villages. But if you have a passion for primates then head to the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary to study the Balinese long-tailed monkey (macaca fascicularis) in this nature reserve and Hindu temple complex. The crab eating monkey, as it is also known, has a habit of foraging beaches for tasty crustaceans.

Love monkeys? Is wildlife a passion? For more advice and inspiration on incredible animal encounters, visit our wildlife holiday pages and start planning your trip of a lifetime.