Wild monkeys have attacked dozens of residents in a southwestern Japanese town in recent weeks, with reports of the animals crawling through house windows and striking from behind, as police step up their fruitless search.
Since July 8, at least 45 people have been injured by Japanese macaques – also known as snow monkeys – in and around the city of Yamaguchi, according to Yoshitaka Morishige, an official with the government’s conservation department. Yamaguchi prefecture.
Initially, officials reported the attacks were the work of a rogue monkey – but authorities now say they cannot confirm whether one or more of the animals were responsible.
The number of confirmed attacks has more than doubled in less than a week. Victims range from toddlers to the elderly, Morishige said.
Those attacked were scratched on the hands and legs, and bitten on the neck and stomach, but reported no serious injuries, said Masato Saito, a Yamaguchi town hall official.
“Recently, we heard of cases where the monkey grabbed onto a person’s leg and once that person tries to pull it off, it gets bitten – or it gets blown up from behind” , did he declare.
Victims reported seeing monkeys of different sizes – “but whether a monkey is small or large varies from person to person as it depends on their perception,” Saito said. “Of course, we could solve the problem if there was a line of monkeys, but in this case, we cannot say for sure if there is one, two or more monkeys.”
Earlier this month, numerous attacks took place when at least one monkey entered homes and a school through open windows and sliding doors. But now, with orders for residents to keep these entry points closed, more people are being attacked outside, Saito said.
The attacks had prompted police to lay traps and step up patrols armed with nets – but after failing to capture monkeys, officers were armed with tranquilizer guns on Sunday.
Macaques are native to the country and are found in most of its islands.
“Japanese macaque monkeys have co-existed with humans since the Edo period – Japan is very mountainous and the communities live near the mountains where the monkeys live, so it’s easy for the monkeys to enter villages and towns,” said said Mieko Kiyono, wildlife management expert and associate professor at Kobe University.
She added that the monkeys live in groups, but young males often go off on their own for a while, meaning the monkey responsible for the attacks is most likely a male.
Yamaguchi officials said such attacks were rare. “This is a very unusual event; they have never come to an urban area like this before and assaulted so many people,” Saito said.
But Kiyono said these types of human-ape conflicts have become increasingly common over the years, with research pointing to factors such as the resurgence of macaque populations due to conservation efforts and the decline of their natural habitats.
“In Japan, more and more monkeys are entering homes and farms, damaging crops,” Kiyono said. “Local governments have measures to hunt monkeys – for example, they can use fireworks to drive them away in their habitat.”
But these measures don’t always work – the apes might as a result develop hostility towards humans and might not even return to their mountain habitats. “Monkeys that learn to react against humans will join other herds, leading to more monkeys that don’t fear humans,” she said.