A Tale of Two Monkeys
Promiscuous Proboscises and Macaque Attacks
By Dave Fox
Bako National Park, Borneo, Malaysia
Macaques, my science-teacher wife told me, are the “trailer trash of the monkey world.” They are omnivores – a fancy word for “will-eat-anything.” Also, if you’re not careful, they are omni-stealers. Macaques are particularly fond of plastic bags because plastic bags sometimes contain bananas, potato chips, or 40-ounce bottles of Schlitz Malt Liquor.
As our boat dropped us at Bako National Park, we were greeted by a warning sign:
That sign was vague, but the next one we saw, on a bulletin board in the park cafeteria, was more specific:
As we arrived at our cabin, things grew more ominous:
And the sign was no joke. Within minutes of our arrival, the macaques were outside, circling our cabin, waiting for us to let our guard down.
Kattina wanted to go hiking. I felt we should stay and defend our property. I did not know how to defend property against a macaque attack. Such a skill was never covered in my two months of judo training, 15 years ago. The truth was, if a monkey came at me, I was going to run away and let it take whatever it wanted. Sure, the macaques were smaller than me, but they possessed a fearlessness I could only dream of. If one bit me, I’d be in the hospital getting rabies shots – an activity possibly less pleasant than the macaque bite.
This thought process – from natural self-defense instincts to raw helplessness – took about 0.3 seconds to blip through my brain, leading me to the conclusion that my best option would be to get the hell out of there, flee into the comparative safety of the Bornean jungle, and hope the dilapidated lock on our door would hold.
There would probably be monkeys in the jungle too, but according to my wife, they would be nicer monkeys. Proboscis monkeys were a species she wanted to encounter.
Proboscis monkeys have astonishingly bulbous noses, Kattina said, and cute pot-bellies. Also, they have webbed feet and are one of the only monkey species that can swim better than me (which, to be honest, isn’t saying much). The proboscis monkeys would be fun, she promised. So we hit the trail in our usual manner: Kattina leading the way, and me whimpering behind her.
As a warm drizzle fell, we clambered over slippery tree roots, up and down steep hills. We saw Silver Leaf Monkeys who hung out in the trees and pretty much left us alone, other than to throw us occasional, “What the hell do you want?” glances. But no proboscis monkeys.
After 90 minutes, we reached an isolated beach. We saw hermit crabs, and little fish, and lots of bugs, but still, no proboscis monkeys.
It was Kattina’s birthday, so we spread Nutella on crackers. The hermit crabs kept their distance during this time. They made no attempts to steal our Nutella, which is because I kept throwing them surly glances and shouting, “Don’t even think about it, hermit crabs!” Sometimes I would toss in a snarl for dramatic effect.
When I did this, Kattina would tell me to shut up, and she would try to cover my mouth because she does not like it when I get violent. But I needed to defend our Nutella. Sometimes, women do not understand these things.
We saw no proboscis monkeys at the beach, which made me question their supposed swimming abilities. We needed to be out of the jungle by dark, so we started high-tailing it back toward the ranger center. Twenty minutes from our camp, we heard a big ruckus coming from high in the palm trees.
Macaques are not tree dwellers, except when it’s time to sleep. And we knew the Silver Leaf troop was elsewhere. By process of elimination, I deduced the tree ruckus could have only one explanation.
I tapped Kattina on her shoulder and whispered, so as not to disturb the ruckus-makers: “Those hermit crabs sure are noisy.”
“Those aren’t hermit crabs!” Kattina hissed back. “They’re proboscis monkeys!”
I realized she was right when I saw a creature in the trees who resembled Gerard Depardieu, only smaller and hairier.
“I think that’s the alpha male,” Kattina whispered. The males, she explained, have bigger noses than the females.
The male with the biggest nose is usually the dominant one. He gets a harem of lady monkeys who swoon over him and cater to his wild jungle fantasies. When the younger males reach maturity, they band together and try to come up with ways to dethrone their alpha male, such as getting him hooked on effeminate-looking, fruity drinks with cocktail umbrellas. (Lady proboscises tend to frown upon alpha males sipping pink beverages.)
We watched and took pictures until it got dark. Then Kattina led the rest of the way back to camp and I whimpered some more.
After dinner, we went on a night walk with a park ranger. We saw flying lemurs and non-flying wild boar, and a tarantula, and a massive insect that looked like a cross between a grasshopper and Lady Gaga.
The next day at the park cafeteria, one of the employees was all a-flustered because this one macaque kept coming inside. Minutes earlier, the monkey had allegedly stolen a backpacker’s potato chips.
Hearing this, I remembered that I really enjoy potato chips and had not had any in several weeks, so I went to buy a bag of my own.
As I opened them, a macaque showed up. He started jumping up and down, and baring his teeth in an aggressive manner.
At this moment, I realized I was being rude by not sharing.
So I said, “Here! Have some!”
And I handed the bag to Kattina.