At least 45 people have been injured by Japanese macaques, also known as snow monkeys, in and around the city of Yamaguchi since July 8, according to Yoshitaka Morishige, an official with the Yamaguchi prefecture government’s conservation department.
The number of confirmed attacks has more than doubled in less than a week. Morishige said the victims ranged from young children to the elderly.
Masato Saito, an official from Yamaguchi town hall, said those who were attacked had their hands and legs scratched, their necks and abdomens bitten, but they did not report any serious injuries.
“Recently we’ve heard of cases where the monkey stuck to a person’s leg and when that person tried to remove them, it was bitten or spread from the back,” he said.
Victims have reported seeing monkeys of different sizes – “but whether a monkey is small or large varies from person to person, depending on their perception,” he said. “Of course, we could figure this out if it was a series of monkeys, but in this case, we can’t say for sure if it’s one, two, or a few monkeys.”
Earlier this month, most of the attacks occurred when at least one monkey entered homes and a school through open windows and sliding doors. But now, while residents are instructed to keep these entry points closed, more people outside are being attacked, Saito said.
The attacks prompted police to set up traps and speed up their patrols armed with nets – but after failing to catch any monkeys, officers were armed with tranquilizers on Sunday.
Macaques are native to the country and are found on most of its islands.
“Japanese macaque monkeys have co-existed with humans since the Edo period — Japan is very mountainous and communities live close to the mountains where the monkeys live, so it’s easy for monkeys to enter villages and towns,” said wildlife management expert Mieko Kiyono. and associate professor at Kobe University.
He added that the monkeys live in groups, but the young males are often left to live alone for some time, meaning the monkey responsible for the attacks was most likely a male individual.
Yamaguchi officials said such attacks are rare. “This is a very unusual event; they’ve never come to an urban area like this before and attacked so many people,” said Saito.
But Kiyono said such human-ape conflicts have become increasingly common over the years, and research points to factors such as a resurgence in macaque populations thanks to conservation efforts and decline in their natural habitats.
“In Japan, more and more monkeys are entering homes and farms and are damaging crops,” said Kiyono. “Local governments have measures to chase away the monkeys – for example, they can use fireworks to chase them back into their habitats.”
But these measures do not always work – as a result, the monkeys may develop hostility towards humans and may even be unable to return to their mountain habitats. “Monkeys that learn to react towards humans will join other herds, leading to more monkeys not afraid of humans,” he said.
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