I am scared of monkeys, so I thought I would visit a sacred forest full of the little macaques. Crazy, eh?
The Ubud Monkey Forest is a famous tourist attraction/sanctuary in Ubud, Bali, and is often visited by over 10,000 people each month. The forest contains around 600 monkeys, with four groups each occupying different territories within the 27-acre sanctuary. As well as the many monkeys, there are some amazing stone carvings and bridges and ponds here within the vines that make it look like a real jungle.
The forest has been populated by monkeys in greater numbers than an environment undisturbed by humans would allow for a number of years, with the population density now higher than ever. The visitor will notice the interesting phenomenon of numerous obese monkeys, a testament to the almost unbounded food supply the huge number of tourists entering in and near the forest provide.
The problem with the Monkey Forest as a tourist attraction is that the monkeys will invariably approach human visitors in a large group and then grab any bags containing food. If the demanded food is not provided quickly enough, one or more of the monkeys will certainly bite the human. Numerous bites occur because humans are not quick enough in producing a desired food item. Given that dogs are not allowed inside, the monkeys have none of the normal environmental competitors to keep them in check – and they have also clearly lost the fear of humans that they would have in the wild.
Monkey bites are a very serious medical event given the variety of viruses monkeys carry that can be transferred to humans. For example, Rabies is very prevalent in macaques, and should be assumed to be very prevalent in the populations in Ubud Monkey Forest, and frequently causes death in humans (vaccinations before you travel are certainly advisable, but they are expensive). Given their apparently increasing aggressiveness, and the risk they pose to human health, there have been calls by Balinese politicians for a cull of macaques in Bali.
If I am honest, I don’t think the Monkey Forest in Ubud should open to tourists. Do I sound like a killjoy? Well, maybe. But I think the whole thing is an accident waiting to happen. Naturally, many accidents have occurred already, but how many more monkey bites (and potential Rabies infections) do we have to endure before the Balinese authorities do something about it? Of course, the monkeys live here, and there is no need to “evict” them, but the monkeys here in Ubud are not at all scared of Humans, and in fact, if anything, it is the Humans who are scared of them! It’s like the Planet of the Apes around here! So in the interests of safety – especially for little children who are oblivious to the dangers – I think it’s about time this place was “de-touristed”.