Constantly rushing from the forest, the monkeys of the Cham Islands are noisy, steal from local households, and attack local residents.
In one particular instance last month, a group of people having lunch in front of a local homestay were attacked by a troop of monkeys which invaded the kitchen, smashed a rice cooker, and stole bags of fruit.
A brewing feud
Households in Area 4 of Moi Hamlet seem to be the most vulnerable to the monkey menace, with many reporting that they’ve forced to eat their meals indoors.
“We have tiny holes in our house which I thought only mice could sneak into, but it turns out monkeys can too. They sneak in and take our food and clothing when we’re not paying attention,” said Pham Thi Ngoc Hue, 63.
Behind Hue’s house is an open space which serves as an outdoor kitchen. Though the area had once been completely open, Ho, Hue’s husband, has had to secure it with iron grids.
Still, his efforts don’t seem to have stopped the monkeys.
Ho said during Tet (Vietnamese Lunar New Year holiday), their internet and TV connections were interrupted when monkeys destroyed the cables on their roof.
Friend turned foe
There was a time when local residents found monkeys to be interesting and friendly. Now, they’re a nightmare with schools, offices, and homes all under constant threat of monkey invasion.
Many locals believe the problem came about in the past two or three years due to the construction of a roads around the islands that have impeded on the monkeys’ homes and food sources. The menace gets so intensive that residents urge local authorities to find solutions.
“There used to be many langsat fruit trees in the forest behind my house. Monkeys came down from the mountain to pick the fruits before returning back to their houses. They rarely interacted with humans,” said Le Ngoc Quang of Moi Hamlet.
Now, their presence has become so feared that locals no longer refer to the pests as “monkeys” but rather as “sirs.”
Le Thi Bich Cong, another islander, said her neighbor has been the victim of a money attack, with a troop of monkeys stealing rice and fish from the household.
“They are smart. They knew to unplug the rice cooker, open the lid, and wait for rice to cool down before eating,” said Cong.
|A house on Cham Islands has its window covered by iron grids to keep monkeys away. – Photo: Thai Ba Dung/Tuoi Tre
Above average monkey population
According to a study published in 2019, Cham Islands host eight troops of rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta), equating to hundreds of monkeys and a distribution density much higher than the jungles in other parts of Vietnam.
Nguyen Van Vu, deputy director of Cham Islands Marine Park, said the monkey menace might be due to a combination of factors.
“The increase of monkey-human interactions could be due to the impacts of infrastructure development which have led to a decrease in food sources. Being fed by tourists may also be a contributing factor,” said Vu.
Tran Huu Vy, director of Greenviet Biodiversity Conservation Center, said the scarcity of food sources, along with an abundance of food from human habitation has made the monkeys more willing to impede of human space.
“We have to stop feeding monkeys and must start fencing our homes and covering trash bins so that the monkeys gradually regain their food gathering skills,” said Vy.
|An altar on Cham Islands is built with two doors to prevent monkeys from stealing offerings. – Photo: Thai Ba Dung/Tuoi Tre
Local residents have also set up peculiar altars in front of their houses to deter monkeys.
Each of these altars has two doors locked in order to prevent monkeys from stealing offerings.
“It is tiring to wait for incense to burn up so I decided to make doors to lock up the altar,” said islander Vo Quy Anh.
Pham Thi My Huong, head of Tan Hiep Commune People’s Committee, said local authorities are well aware of the issue.
“The provincial authorities are planning to establish a new nature reserve. The commune has requested to have conservation areas separated from residential areas and tourism spots that do not invade monkeys’ habitat,” said Huong.