Sunday, May 21, 2017

On the Go In Manado 14: Black Crested Macaques

The black macaque, which I had come to see
in Tangkoko. I didn't take this pic. It's the
famous 'monkey selfie' pic which it took of
itself and raised all kinds of interesting copy-
right questions.

Why do we enjoy looking at animals? Maybe it’s because of some primal instinct based on predator and prey. Animals are food and who doesn’t like food? Maybe in the case of creatures like monkeys, it’s a higher need to connect with what we once were. We see aspects of our own feelings and behaviors reflected in the eyes and actions of other primates and we find this fascinating. Whatever the reason, I undoubtedly enjoy watching monkeys do their thing. 

Here's me, 25 years ago, being bitten by a
monkey at a Balinese monkey forest.
The cur really wanted the banana and
didn't want to wait for the camera.
Here in SE Asia, I’ve also been to the occasional tourist-driven  ‘monkey-forest’ or a temple somewhere where they’re tolerated, and fed, by visitors. Other than that, my monkey viewing  enjoyment has been limited to nature documentaries and zoos. 

We saw such a zoo in the last blog, and whereas some of the animals were well-treated, the monkeys were in 1 cubic meter hellholes of cages. To say the least, that dampens my experience and it certainly kills any human-like activity and interaction on their part. 

Consequently, I was very excited to visit the Tangkoko National Nature Reserve (mislabeled on the Google maps as a national park). On the evening of my arrival, I had negotiated a trip with a local guide, getting a substantial discount for being able to speak Indonesian, thus making the guide’s job a lot easier). He warned me that we weren’t absolutely guaranteed to see anything on our monkey safari, but since he knew where the local troupe had bedded down (or up – they sleep in the trees) for the night, provided we got there early enough, we could catch them as they came down in the morning. 
Giant ficus

The next morning, we left the Tangkoko Guesthouse at 5:00 AM  for the short motorbike journey to the entrance of the preserve. It was still dark, and as we trekked through the jungle, we did so by flashlight. 

I was taken by the immensity of the ficus trees.  Not nearly as tall as the redwoods around my old family home in California, their trunks splayed out wider than a redwood, giving their roots a head start in spreading out and gripping the soft, wet tropical rainforest soil. To think, these monsters are the same species as the common houseplant that resided in the dining room of that same California home. 
Pak Nestor and I talking about the monkeys

Eventually, we came upon the area where my guide, Nestor (they’re Christians there in Manado so they got biblical names) had seen them the night before. Then, we waited. Nestor proved quite knowledgeable in monkey facts. The crested black macaque (Macaca nigra)  only lives in this little corner of Sulawesi. They eat mostly fruit and are only eaten by the occasional hawk or eagle (and people, of course). They live in family groups of 25 to 70 members, led by an alpha male. It was this troupe’s alpha male who we were waiting for. He’s always the first to descend from the canopy, signaling to the rest of the clan that it’s time to begin their monkey work day. 

Nestor told me to stay put while he went scouting around elsewhere. We could hear rustling up above, but hadn’t seen a monkey yet. It was with a sense of awe when I, by myself, got to see the alpha male, the boss, make his way down a tree not more than 40 feet away from me. For a minute, it was just me and the top banana, his family still upstairs and my guide somewhere else. 

It didn’t take long for us to be surrounded by monkeys. They didn’t get too close to use, nor we to them, but they weren’t particularly phased by our presence. 

We were able to move with them, they paying no more attention to us than the trees they clamored over. These were still wild jungle monkeys, but if monkeys are hunted for meat in other parts of Sulawesi, not this troupe.

Nestor assured me that the alpha male would soon lead the group to a different part of the forest, maybe even down to the coast to do some beach combing. We just had to wait for him to make up his mind as to where to go. Evidently, he never did, as we spent the next hour or so wandering around in a circle. 
None shall pass!  The Black Macaque Knight.

Still, it was fascinating to be so in and amongst wild animals that I had seen locked up just a day earlier.  It was like being in one of the wildlife documentaries I’ve loved for years. 

Unfortunately, I hadn’t brought my good camera on this trip. All I had was the newly purchased mini GoPro clone, so the footage is nowhere near documentary quality. I hope you enjoy it anyways. 


  1. Did the alpha male remind you of any humans that you know or know of?

    1. Bullies from the schoolyard came to mind.


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