Filtered sunlight makes its way through the tall canopy, the stone statues of snakes and monkeys, the ornate temples, and the calls of monkeys create an eerie, spirit-filled setting. Visitors follow trails; a deep ravine runs through the park grounds, at the bottom flows a rocky stream. The heavily forested and hilly Ubud Monkey Forest covers about 27 acres (10 hectares) containing at least 115 different species of trees and over 600 crab-eating macaques (Balinese long-tailed macaques).
The monkeys roam freely – doing all their monkey business – in the Monkey Forest Sanctuary, Ubud. Although these macaques are called “crab-eating,” they often eat fruits and many other things; they are native to Southeast Asia and often used in research. Since they are most active during the day, visitors can observe their activities – caring for their young, mating, fighting, and grooming – at close range.
Five groups of monkeys inhabit the park, each occupying different territories. In recent years here, the monkey population has become larger than a natural environment could support, so conflicts between the groups are unavoidable, but it also means that visitors can see more monkeys here than in the wild.
Know that the monkeys are interested in any food you have. So, don’t be casually walking along enjoying your fresh young coconut. You are likely – actually guaranteed – to be jumped. Likewise, monkeys can smell food in your backpack; don’t count on just hiding your food.
The Monkey Forest park staff feed the monkeys sweet potatoes and other vegetables three times a day, providing them with their main source of food in the park, and so, the monkeys here are usually not as super naughty as in some other places.
In general, monkeys will not come up to you if you do not bring bananas or any other food. But they are smart and curious, and they may think you have food in that bag you are carrying, and they know how to take a lid off a bottle in search of whatever delightful drink they think you might have there. We saw a female trying valiantly to crack open a coconut by hitting it repeatedly with the side of her hand. She used a folded leaf to cushion the blow to her hand.
Once as I was walking along Monkey Forest Road and not even in the sanctuary, a monkey, a BIG monkey, climbed up my leg to check out the bottle I was carrying. When he saw it was only a plastic bottle of water, he climbed back down. Luckily – and surprisingly to me, I didn’t freak out. I was very happy I was wearing pants.
Monkey Forest Sanctuary site recommendations include:
- Leave any non-essential bags and bottles at the ticket counter.
- Do not bring in food or drinks to the park.
- Do not feed the monkeys peanuts, biscuits, bread, or any other human snacks because they are detrimental to monkey health. Some of the monkeys are now obese 😦 from such feeding. You may give the monkeys bananas that can be purchased at the entrance, but use care in giving the bananas.
- pull at a monkey or
- move suddenly.
- Do hang on to, or better yet, hide –
- or whatever might be taken. Don’t have anything shiny, money sticking out of your pocket, or your computer available in your open bag.
- If you do feed the monkeys, always look out for the claws and teeth of the dominant male. He should be given food first to avoid fighting or you getting bitten.
- Don’t get close to the babies. Especially don’t get between a mom and her baby.
- When you smile, don’t show your teeth. In monkey understanding, this is considered an aggressive gesture. Monkey grimaces are indicators of inferiority while panting and open-mouthed threats are indicators of dominance.
- If you have a child with you, be particularly careful.
The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary staff in the green uniforms are throughout the park in case you need assistance.
Even if you are careful, it is possible to get scratched or bitten. The monkeys are wild animals, and they are not afraid of humans. I haven’t heard of monkeys having rabies here, but some dogs do. Although dogs aren’t allowed in the sanctuary, I’ve seen a monkey and a young, rambunctious dog near the park entrance scraping over a bit of food. So don’t take chances. A puncture wound or even a scratch in a humid, hot climate such as Bali’s can quickly become infected. Seek immediate medical attention even if your wound seems minor.
Even with all these cautions, I recommend that you go to the Monkey Forest Sanctuary. Except for that one curious, climbing-up-my-leg monkey, I haven’t had any others bother me. They are fun to watch. And it’s fun to watch tourists interact with the monkeys too.
The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary is not only a tourist attraction with about 10,000 visitors a month but also an important site in the spiritual life of the local community. The Monkey Forest grounds are home to three Hindu temples, all apparently constructed around 1350!
The Main Temple is used for worshiping a personification of Shiva, the transformer. The Pura Beji Temple is a “Holy Spring” bathing temple, a place of spiritual and physical cleansing and purification prior to religious ceremonies.
The Prajapati Temple is used to pray for procreation and the protection of life. A cemetery adjacent to this temple receives the bodies of the deceased for temporary burial while they await a mass cremation ceremony (because of the extremely high costs), held approximately every five years.
The temples play an important role in the spiritual life of the local community, and the monkey and its mythology are important in the Balinese art tradition. The Monkey Forest area is sanctified by the local community, and some sacred areas of the temples are closed to everyone except those willing to pray and to wear proper Balinese praying attire.
On-going research and conservation programs also happen here with researchers from around the world focusing particularly on the monkey social interaction and behavior with their surrounding environment.
So go to the Monkey Forest Sanctuary for the monkeys, the trees, the temples. Especially if you are aware, you will have fun.
Selamat jalan, Renée
“The Holy Monkey Forest of Sangeh” by Bill Dalton, Bali Advertiser, 26 Sept. – 12 Oct. 2016, p 26.
Text and photos from: http://monkeyforestubud.com/