The Strange Behavior of a Gang of Teenage Monkeys

The Strange Behavior of a Gang of Teenage Monkeys

By Jack Ewing

 I once saw a show on the Discovery Channel about a game reserve in South Africa where poachers had killed all of the mature bull elephants. A group of adolescent bulls was wreaking havoc, harassing, and attacking other animals in the park. They were much like a teenage gang. Finally, the reserve owners brought in some older bulls from another reserve, and the young elephants settled down. When I think about a strange experience, I once had with a group of young White-fronted Capuchin Monkeys this situation comes to mind.

They looked like a bunch of teenagers goofing around, teasing each other, and just hanging out. There were six of them altogether. Most were up in the trees relaxing on branches with arms and legs dangling over the sides, or sitting, munching on something. A couple of them would occasionally go to the ground, venture out a few meters from the tree’s base, and quickly scamper back up. None of the monkeys were very large-bodied. From their demeanor, I imagined that they were a group of adolescents off by themselves, temporarily separated from the adults in the main troop. I had never seen or heard of a similar case before.

The Strange Behavior of a Gang of Teenage Monkeys

Something got their attention. Leisure activity ceased, and all looked in the same direction. A big sow raccoon with two small cubs in tow came into view after a minute, sniffing around and scratching in the leaf litter on the forest floor. The monkeys watched them for a minute, chattered among themselves, descended to the ground, gathered at the base of a giant strangler fig, and again appeared to be in some sort of discussion. They lined up, side by side, standing upright.

Somewhat hesitantly, this wall of primates moved toward the mother raccoon. At first, she ignored them, but at some point, the monkeys crossed an invisible red line, and the big sow’s behavior changed from measured disinterest to full attention. Still not alarmed, she checked to make sure that the cubs were behind her, turned to face the monkey’s line, raised slightly on her haunches, bared her teeth, and hissed at them. I could almost imagine her saying to them: “You want to try it, boys? Come right ahead! Who’s first?”

But none stepped forward. The whole gang of monkeys turned tail, ran for the fig tree, scuffled for a position, and ascended to the crown. Once safe from the mother raccoon, they seemed to lose interest in her, like a person trying to forget an embarrassing incident and pretending it never happened. The monkeys returned to their vagrant behavior, and mama continued about her business with her cubs at her side.

None of us at Hacienda Barú has witnessed another incident similar to this one. Mother Nature is constantly coming up with surprises.

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