Chaishan () Monkey Safari

By Charles Wetzel

In late April, I made a goal to see a monkey in the wild. Not at a zoo. In the wild.

The reasons for this were threefold. First of all, since I was a young boy, I have been fascinated by animals and nature, especially animals that I couldn't find around my Fairfax, Virginia home. My preschool teacher will tell you (if she still remembers) that I drew snakes all the time. The second reason for me wanting to find monkeys was that I am currently studying psychology for the UExcel Psychology exam, and every few pages of my textbook, it seems, they talk about experiments on monkeys. Experiments with monkeys being raised in solitary confinement. Experiments in which the monkeys are rewarded for solving complex puzzles by opening a window and showing them an “interesting scene” (like a model locomotive going past in an adjacent room). The ability of non-human primates to use language.

Thirdly, my students here in Taiwan always talk about monkeys. Small children will laugh when an English teacher says “supermarket” because they think he said “supermonkey.” Students tell tales of monkey attacks, food-pilfering monkeys, etc. One student of mine claimed to have witnessed one that was “ 60 centimeters tall, the king of the monkeys.”

That night, I decided to go and find monkeys on Shoushan, a local mountain. Between 1:00 and 2:00 AM, I hunted high and low — I called “here, monkey monkey!” I pretended to chew on my camera, making loud eating noises and exclaimed “mmmmm, this is delicious.” I removed my backpack, placed it on the ground as an “offering,” and walked perhaps 20 feet away. None of this worked. As the man at the top of Shoushan (who was chewing betel nuts) told me, the monkeys were sleeping and the best time of day to see them would be around 3:00 in the afternoon, all the way from Zhongshan University to Chaishan (there are apparently also many monkeys inside the nearby military base, a piece of information that was completely useless to me). The Chinese word for “monkey,” by the way, is “hóuzi ().”

Today (May 1, 2010) I re-entered the mountains. I entered at Zhongshan University (National Sun Yat-sen University, named after one of the founders of the Republic of China) and went towards Chaishan. I entered Chaishan, and saw furry mammals flying through the trees! Wow, only a few minutes in the woods, and I had already gotten lucky, right?

Wrong. It was just a squirrel. False alarm.

I hiked and hiked. One of the biggest annoyances was a certain kind of tree with crooked branches. Whenever I walked past such a tree, I'd hear the leaves start russling like a breeze was blowing through them. Only it wasn't a breeze — it was a gazillion gnats alighting from the leaves to come and annoy me. Finally, I made it to a region of the mountains known as “Lilongshan:”

Lilongshan appears to hold some sort of holy status. It's a beautiful place.

I saw an elderly couple sitting inside of a rustic bamboo enclosure surrounded by palm fronds that looked out into the jungle like something from Tarzan. I asked the couple about the monkeys, and they said that there were many monkeys, and at that very instant, right behind them...

Chenggong! Success! I found a Formosan Rock Macaque (Macaca cyclopis). The monkeys were surprisingly peaceful and didn't run away scared or shriek like monkeys stereotypically do. They did have certain calls, but these were lower-pitched than I'd expected.

The monkey above is swinging through the trees. As they move through the trees, many sections of stem and spiked green berries fall off the trees. I can only assume that they eat these green berries, but I have no idea.

Unfortunately, after that, my camera batteries died. However, I did manage to accomplish my mission of photographing wild monkeys, so all is not lost.

Word Count: 665 words