Since July 8, at least 45 people have been injured by Japanese macaques, also known as snow monkeys, in and around Yamaguchi city, according to Yoshitaka Morishige, an official with the Yamaguchi prefectural government’s conservation department.
The number of confirmed attacks has more than doubled in less than a week. Victims range from young children to the elderly, Morishige said.
Those attacked suffered scratches on their hands and legs, and bites on their necks and stomachs, but reported no serious injuries, said Masato Saito, an official with the Yamaguchi city hall.
“Recently, we have heard of cases where the monkey has latched onto a person’s leg, and once that person tries to take it off, they bite, or jump from behind,” he said.
Victims have reported seeing monkeys of different sizes, “but whether a monkey is small or large changes from person to person as it depends on their perception,” Saito said. “Of course, we could figure it out if there was a line of monkeys, but in this case, we can’t say for sure if there is one, two or several monkeys.”
Earlier this month, many of the attacks occurred when at least one monkey entered homes and a school through open windows and sliding doors. But now, with residents instructed to keep those entry points closed, more people are being attacked outside, Saito said.
The attacks had prompted police to set traps and intensify their patrols armed with nets, but after failing to capture any monkeys, officers were armed with tranquilizer guns on Sunday.
Macaques are native to the country and are found on most of its islands.
“Japanese macaque monkeys have coexisted with humans since the Edo period. Japan is very mountainous and communities live near the mountains where the monkeys live, so it is easy for the monkeys to enter towns and cities,” said Mieko Kiyono. , expert in wildlife management. and associate professor at Kobe University.
He added that monkeys live in groups, but young males often go off to live alone for a period of time, meaning the monkey responsible for the attacks is more likely to be a male individual.
Yamaguchi officials said such attacks were rare. “This is a very unusual occurrence; they have never entered an urban area like this before and robbed so many people,” Saito said.
But Kiyono said these types of conflicts between humans and monkeys have become increasingly common over the years, with research pointing to factors such as the resurgence of macaque populations thanks to conservation efforts and declines in numbers. their natural habitats.
“In Japan, more and more monkeys enter houses and farms and damage crops,” Kiyono said. “Local governments have measures to chase away the monkeys, for example they can use fireworks to chase them back to their habitat.”
But these measures don’t always work: As a result, the monkeys could develop hostility towards humans and may not even return to their mountainous habitats. “Monkeys that learn to react against humans will join other herds, resulting in more monkeys that don’t fear humans,” he said.
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