Raiding Monkeys, Frustrated Farmers
By “Awake!” correspondent in the Leeward Islands
A WEST INDIAN farmer stood viewing the remains of half an acre of uprooted potatoes, representing months of labor. Like many an island farmer, he had become the victim of a monkey ambush. Having surprised a troop of 50 or 60 screeching monkeys in his garden that morning, he had pursued them into the forest to locate their den. Upon returning a short time later, he had discovered that another raiding band had invaded his garden from the opposite side of the field.
Such incidents highlight the centuries-old clash between frustrated farmers and marauding troops of Western green monkeys. Large quantities of cane, cucumbers, carrots and other produce are destroyed annually as these raiders sweep down from the mountains on St. Kitts and Nevis in the West Indies. The forays date back to the mid-17th century. By that time they had become so destructive that legislation had been passed declaring them vermin and giving bounties for each monkey destroyed. The problem is similar to what has taken place in many parts of the earth as spreading humanity forces wildlife into areas that do not offer an adequate food supply for them.
The angry farmers fight back. Elaborate scarecrows, concealed snares, watchdogs, crop guards, bounty hunters—these are but a few of the devices employed to curb the monkey invasions. But alas! they are not very successful.
Scarecrows left in the field to ward off the invaders are cautiously approached. For several days the monkeys throw stones at the scarecrows, gradually coming closer. Finally, they close in and rip them to pieces. One bounty hunter wrapped himself in green branches, but to his disgust the monkeys penetrated his disguise long before he came within range of them. One farmer tied his dog in the garden, trusting that its barking would keep the monkeys at bay. When he returned he was dismayed to find that the monkeys had devoured all his young corn and the dog was peacefully snoozing nearby!
The monkeys employ several clever strategies. Before approaching a prospective garden, they deploy a lone monkey to reconnoiter. This lookout climbs a tall tree. As he makes the all-clear call, the males approach the site, followed by the females. All then rip and tear and uproot the crop until stuffed. After the troop has gorged itself, the watchman is taken his share of food. However, if this lookout has failed to give adequate warning upon the approach of the farmer, the males of the troop will kill him.
When feeding in a garden, mother monkey does not bring her infant into the feeding area. She leaves it concealed in the tall grass alongside her escape route. At a danger signal from the lookout, she scampers from the field giving an alarm call to her baby. As she races toward the little fellow, it leaps onto her side, clinging there desperately. Sometimes the baby in the confusion misses, or leaps to the wrong mother, and is left behind. When this happens the farmer will often take the baby as a pet for his children.
Sometimes, when cornered, a mother monkey has been known to plead for mercy. She will hold up her baby as a reason for showing compassion for the helpless. Or, if pregnant, mothers have been known to pat their stomachs to call attention to their pregnancy. When born, baby monkey resembles a small rat without hair. Its skin color is a lovely light-bluish green (observable for one or two years), and is apparently the reason for its designation “green monkey.” In adult stages it is grayish yellow, with chest and parts of legs and arms white. When fully grown, adults weigh 15 pounds (6.8 kg).
Who is ahead in the running conflict between monkey and farmer? It is not easy to determine. However, recent field observations being carried out by members of the Behavioral Science Foundation under Dr. Frank Ervin indicate that between seven and 12 thousand St. Kitts green monkeys inhabit the island at present. The report suggests 34,000 monkeys as a maximum number the island could feed throughout the year if they continued to live only in the areas now occupied. This figure indicates that almost as many monkeys as people could dwell comfortably on the island.
But with this the frustrated farmers may disagree.