Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Monkey business

What’s more fun than a barrel of monkeys?

Actually, there are a ton of things more fun than a barrel of monkey.

After all, a barrel of monkeys is shrieky, smelly, grabby – a log scale version of an individual shrieky, smelly, grabby monkey.

So a barrel of hula hoops, a barrel of tarot cards, a barrel of ice cream – and plenty of other barrel-fulls  – would be a lot more fun.

Not that I’m a monkey-ist, mind you. I have nothing against primates. Some of my best friends are primates, and in a past life even got up close and personal with the bonobo (pygmy chimpanzees) troop at the San Diego Zoo. (A story for another day.)

A Chinese village learned about monkey business the hard way. Xianfeng was looking for a way to improve their local economy. As with so many locales, they landed on tourism. But what was going to attract tourism to their home town? It took a village, but they came up with the idea to use monkeys as a come on. So,

In 2003, over a span of nearly seven weeks, the residents of Xianfeng village lured dozens of macaque monkeys down from nearby mountains. Xianfeng is located in China’s Sichuan province, where another tourist attraction, Mount Emei, is famous for its monkeys. The villagers were, perhaps, inspired by the mountainous monkey refuge, according to China’s CCTV News. (Source: Boston Globe)

At first, it worked out pretty well, and thousands of tourists came to town to watch the monkeys monkey around. Then the lead investor in the scheme died, and, with it, overall business support disappeared. By this time, there were 600 monkeys in town. And all of a sudden, Xianfeng was dealing with a nuisance of its own making.

At Xianfeng the monkeys steal food, get into cacophonous fights, and break into homes, CCTV News reports. On nearby Mount Emei, visitors to the monkeys’ habitat are now warned not to touch or feed the furry denizens, and to clutch valuables tightly as the animals have been known to abscond with objects and drape them from the treetops.

It’s not just in Xianfeng. It’s a pan*-China problem.

Even in urban Hong Kong, the macaques are not afraid of humans, nabbing food from human hands and convenience stores.

Every family has its lore. Part of the Rogers family story line involves a monkey taking a cookie out of my sister Kathleen’s hand while, when out for a Sunday drive, the family stopped at a roadside attraction on Route 9. Kathleen was only two at the time, so if I were there, I was an infant. So there’s little actual recall of the monkey incident. Yet whenever we were tootling out Route 9 in Spencer on a ride – and we were a family that went out for a lot of rides – someone was sure to pipe up with “that’s where the monkey stole Kathleen’s cookie.”

I had my own Route 9 incident, but it was not as exciting or glamorous as Kath’s. At the age of four, out with my father, Kath and Tom running an errand – okay, it was a trip to a packy for my father to pick up a case of Knickerbocker beer – I tripped and fell coming out the door. And every time we passed that packy, someone could be counted on to trill, “there’s where Maureen tripped and fell.” Not the only time in my life I tripped and fell, but it was the only time I tripped and fell while leaving a liquor store.

Anyway, to return to Xianfeng’s monkey business. Sometimes there are good business ideas. Sometimes there are bad business ideas. And sometimes it’s hard to figure out in advance which is which. Every business plan has that paragraph devoted to risk, so I’d be curious to know whether the Xianfeng business planners had anticipated that all those lured-in macaques might start running amuck, stealing cookies from toddlers, and draping stolen objects in trees.


*Obscure primate pun. I know that there’s a difference between monkeys and great apes, like chimps. But the genus for chimp is “pan”, so I couldn’t resist throwing it in.

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