The Bad Monkey Buffet
The Lopburi Monkey Buffet is an annual festival held in Lopburi, Thailand on the last Sunday in November. During the festival, tourists and residents gather enormous amounts of fruits and vegetables and lay them out in front of temples for the local long-tailed macaques to enjoy. According to one writer for amusingplanet.com, “Over 2,000 kg of fruits and vegetables are offered to the attending guest monkeys.”
Why would Lopburi have such an odd holiday? Now used as a tourist attraction, the festival’s purpose has two origins. One is an attempt to reduce the harassment that the locals received from the monkeys. They tend to be “gluttons, harassing visitors for their snacks and food. In 1989, villagers decided that the best way to deal with them was to embrace them.” “Embracing them,” in this case, means to prepare a huge feast in hopes of appeasing the monkeys enough so they stop bugging people. The other origin is based on the Ramayana, a sacred book of Hindu mythology. In the Ramayana, “a heroic monkey with human traits named Hanuman helped rescue a bride to be from a 10 headed demon and it is believed today that Hanuman founded Lopburi and that the monkey residents of the town are direct descendants of his bloodline.” This origin serves as a big “thank you” to the descendants of the alleged founder of their city.
Though a pleasant Thanksgiving-type holiday for the monkeys, the Lopburi Monkey Buffet is problematic. The massive praise the macaques receive seems to have caused a misconceived association between humans and food that has given the monkeys a sense of entitlement to the belongings of the human residents. Nick Upton from hubpages.com describes his less-than-friendly encounters during a visit to Lopburi: “the monkeys are particularly numerous and likely to jump on you, steal your bag or pick your pocket. . . . be wary of the large males. If you do get bitten go to [the] hospital and get treated for possible rabies!”
But rabies and missing pocket contents should be the least of the people’s concern. Coexisting with these ankle-biters (pun intended) subjects residents to something fierce. About 80-90 percent of long-tailed macaques have the herpes B virus. Present in saliva, feces, urine, or nervous tissue, herpes symptoms in monkeys can be few or even none at all, but for humans, the infection can result in severe neurologic impairment or fatal encephalomyelitis. Just as any other species, monkeys eat and digest food. What happens after food digestion? According to Amy Klegarth from newswatch.com, “they do poop pretty much everywhere they eat, which in a town like Lopburi, is everywhere.”
Resorting to pick-pocketing and handouts as their form of survival, Lopburi macaques have clearly developed a dependency on humans. They don’t have to work or search for their food anymore. Everything they have is just given to them. Sure, monkeys can be cute and fun, but not in the form of herpes-infested, publicly defecating thieves. Of course, stopping this festival entirely might force them to return to their even more animalistic, independent instincts.