The Not-So-Sacred Monkeys of Bali: A Radiographic Study of Human-Primate Commensalism
Humans and nonhuman primates have coexisted and interacted for millennia in Asia. Interspecies interaction is particularly intensive at religious sites that are commonly referred to by Westerners as “monkey temples” or “monkey forests”. These monkey temples are found throughout South and Southeast Asia, and some have evolved into significant tourist destinations, often contributing substantially to the economic base of the communities in which they are located. In Bali, the location and structural layout of temples are guided by the Balinese Hindu philosophies of Nawa Sanga (the ritual grid organizing space) and Tri Hita Karana (the three ideals for achieving balance between humans, gods, and the natural world). Balinese culture emphasizes harmony between humankind and nature. Adherence to these traditional values has contributed to the preservation of forests and other natural landscape features associated with the temple areas and protection of nonhuman denizens found at these sites (Fuentes et al. 2005).
Far from being threatened, Bali’s primate populations in these settings are often protected, provisioned, and treated with great tolerance. As a result, the macaques often thrive, and populations may increase substantially over time (Fuentes et al. 2005; Wheatley 1999), leading to conflict as humans and macaques compete for limited resources, such as space and food. Crop-raiding by monkeys can become a nuisance to local farmers adjacent to monkey temples. Aggressive primate-human interactions can lead to scratch and/or bite injuries for humans, increasing the likelihood of pathogen transmission between species (Engel et al. 2006; Fuentes 2006; Fuentes and Gamerl 2005). Here we present a study illustrating just one of the myriad and complex ways in which humans and primates interact in these settings.
Located east of the island of Java, Indonesia, Bali is a small (∼5,633 km2) island with relatively large human (∼3.2 million) and monkey populations. Unlike Java, or other islands of Indonesia, which are largely Muslim, Bali’s residents are predominantly Hindu (>90%). As an important part of Balinese culture and society, Hindu temples are located throughout the island. Many of these temples are inhabited by troops of long-tailed macaque monkeys (Macaca fascicularis), which are protected and often provisioned.
There are at least 63 such sites on the island (Fuentes et al. 2005). Each site has fifteen to over three hundred monkeys with densities ranging from one to over twenty individuals per square kilometer, while human densities average over 500 individuals per square kilometer across the island. Over 68% of these sites are associated with a temple or shrine. These religious complexes can be as small as a simple shrine consisting of a few stones and an altar to elaborate temple complexes that are heavily used by Balinese, and, in some cases, foreigners (Fuentes et al. 2005). Many of these macaque groups receive some provisioning.
KeywordsVervet Monkey Monkey Population Macaque Group Hindu Temple Muzzle Velocity
We thank the communities and temple committees of Sangeh, Alas Kedaton, Pulaki, Teluk Terima, and Uluwatu as well as Lembaga Ilmu Pengetahuan Indonesia. This project was funded in part by a Research Allocations Committee grant from the University of New Mexico (to G. Engel) and Chicago Zoological Society (to L. Jones-Engel). We are grateful to J. Heidrich for supplies and technical assistance and the University of New Mexico and Central Washington State Bali Field School students for assistance.
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