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November 3, 2011 / Dan Whipple

Don’t feed the monkeys

vervet monkey

A vervet monkey. Photo courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

There are signs at the hotels around Kenya saying, “Monkey Menace!” and “Don’t feed the monkeys!” and such like.

I finally got a good explanation about why you don’t feed the monkeys the other day at the Know Kenya More course of the Kenya Museum Society.

Like medieval Europe or the Catholic Church, monkey society is rigidly hierarchical. If a lower-ranking monkey has food, the higher ranking monkey can take it from him, no questions asked. Does the viscount feed the baron? Does the bishop dip into the cardinal’s communion wine? They do not.

If the lower ranking monkey refuses to concede the food, the higher status monkey takes steps to enforce the hierarchy. Monkey A, bites monkey B, much like the viscount will bite the baron and consider that he is only doing his feudal duty.

So if a tourist gives a monkey food from his traditional English meal, he is signaling to the monkey that he, the tourist, is the lower ranking monkey. When the tourist returns to his bangers and mash, refusing to offer further generosity, the monkey feels that his alpha monkey status is being challenged. Then the monkey does the feudal thing and bites the tourist. This causes hard feeling on both sides.

So. Don’t feed the monkeys.


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