Almost five million people visited Bali each year before the COVID outbreak, but the pandemic has reduced visitor numbers. In addition, it has left the local macaques monkeys without as much food as they expect, forcing them to raid locals’ homes for food.
Villagers in Sangeh are forking out a daily feast of fruit, peanuts, and other foods to prevent a potentially violent invasion by the 600 primates that live in a sanctuary just 500 yards away.
“We are afraid that the hungry monkeys will turn wild and vicious,” local Saskara Gustu Alit told The Associated Press.
Villagers say the gray long-tailed macaques hang out on their roofs and wait for the appropriate opportunity to swoop down and grab a snack.
Around 600 macaques live in the forest sanctuary, dangling from tall nutmeg trees and leaping around the famous Pura Bukit Sari temple, and are considered sacred.
During normal times, the protected jungle area in the southeast of the Indonesian island is popular with locals and international visitors for wedding photos. The relatively friendly monkeys can be easily convinced to sit on a person’s shoulder or lap in exchange for a few peanuts.
In July, international travel to Bali was prohibited. The tourism industry on the resort island is dominated by the 5 million visitors it receives each year, including 6,000 people per month at the Sangeh Monkey Forest, which temporarily closed to the public in July.
Not only has this meant that no extra food has been brought in for the monkeys, but the sanctuary has also lost money from admission fees and is running out of money to buy food for them, according to operations manager Made Mohon.
“This prolonged pandemic is beyond our expectations,” Mohon said. “Food for monkeys has become a problem.”
Mohon estimates that 440 pounds (200 kg) of cassava and 22 pounds (10 kg) of bananas cost roughly $60 (850,000 rupiahs) per day to feed the monkeys.
Monkeys have been known to wander into the village and steal things such as daily religious food offerings, villagers said.
“A few days ago I attended a traditional ceremony at a temple near the Sangeh forest,” Gustu Alit said. “When I parked my car and took out two plastic bags containing food and flowers as offerings, two monkeys suddenly appeared and grabbed it all and ran into the forest very fast.”
Normally, the monkeys spend the entire day interacting with visitors, grabbing sunglasses and water bottles, pulling at clothes, and leaping on shoulders, and according to Gustu Alit, who believes they are bored rather than hungry.
“That’s why I have urged villagers here to come to the forest to play with the monkeys and offer them food,” he said. “I think they need to interact with humans as often as possible so that they do not go wild.”