“A Monkey Misunderstanding” by Gordon Young

The following is an excerpt from the classic book Tracks of an Intruder by Gordon Young, a non-fiction account of exploration and hunting in Northern Thailand in the 1950s

By the end of a week our exploration of Doi Lang Ka had been completed, and we knew where to find two rare animals that could have been most profitable if captured alive. These were the Clouded Leopard and Barred-back Pheasant. Dealers all over the world wanted them, but they were as unlucky about obtaining them through our efforts as we were in the attempts to capture these shy creatures. They still roam freely in the rather impossible denseness of Doi Lang Ka. I hope it will always remain a haven for these rare and exotic animals.

a Pigtailed macaque

a Pigtailed macaque

On the second day after Little Pig had been bitten by the viper, and just when we made first contacts with the fabulous Barred-back Pheasants, I happened to be coming up one of the long ridges to the west of our camp with the younger brother of Gems who had joined our trip for the first time. We had been no more than a mile from camp, trying to find out something about the habits of the strange pheasants, when we ran into a very large troupe of Pig-tailed Macaques. It appeared to me that all the monkeys were in the valley to my right, busily hunting for food in the treetops, and the two of us took no more than a passing glance at them as we walked up the ridge.

Then a very small monkey, some fifty yards away from the main troupe, suddenly started screaming in the branches just over our heads, startled half out of its wits when it saw us. It raced through the branches towards the troupe only to find that it could not negotiate the distance between the tree that it had been playing in and the next one. Now its screams became as frantic as though it had gotten into the claws of an eagle, so that the boy, Ca Ti, and I had to exchange smiles over the absurd commotion the little fellow was creating over what was no danger at all. Our smiles played out quickly when we realized all at once that the baby monkey’s distress calls were not falling on heedless ears.

In a moment we were the victims of monkey misunderstanding. Alarming numbers of large males Pigtails were leaping through the trees towards us, coming, they imagined, to the aid of one of their young.

I had heard a number of stories about both Pigtails (nemestrina) and the Stump-tailed Macaque (speciosa) attacking hunters under unusual circumstances. These had happened to Lahu hunters armed only with a bow, or at best a muzzle-loading gun. In most cases the angered monkeys triumphed with ghastly results, finally tearing a man from limb to limb. I had also seen a big male Pigtail once make quick work of five dogs, using its tremendous strength to grab a dog briefly while inflicting great slashes with its large canine teeth. My first reaction, therefore, was to join Ca Ti who was by then moving down the hill with the grace of a doe. But I realized that I was too late and had I tried to run, I would have been quickly overtaken.

In a loud chorus of throaty barks, the first of the big males reached me and hesitated, darting quick glances behind to see that more and more reinforcements were coming up. I knew that monkeys are something like dogs in that if a person shows fear or tries to retreat, the inevitable attack comes. In this case the monkeys could see that I was frightened, but paused because I had not yet retreated. I recall that about five big males were beginning to ring me in when I started shooting. I began by shooting a big boy just getting ready to spring off a bending bamboo which would have landed him right on me. Then I opened up as rapidly as I could until I had fired all six rounds from my rifle. It is probably most fortunate that I had had the sixth round in the chamber, which is not always my practice while hunting. It took six shots to even begin to turn the determined animals. Had I been trying to reload after my fifth shot, I am certain that the monkeys would have still pressed their attack at that point.

It was point-blank shooting and I could not miss. Six big males lay down quietly without apparently being noticed by the rest of the troupe. The sound of my rifle did not seem to frighten them at first, but with the diminishing raucous sounds from which the combined troupe gathered much courage, the monkeys began to retreat somewhat. I reloaded as quickly as I could, and managed to slip three more rounds from my pocket into my rifle before I had to work the first round quickly into my chamber and fire again. The seventh and eighth big males were the last that the leader, wherever he or she might have been, was willing to send into battle.

I still did not trust the monkeys not to attack again so stood where I had been standing, loading up again with my last round of ammunition (I always carry exactly ten rounds for luck!). Something told me that the fight was over, mainly because the dear little baby monkey which had started the whole thing had found a way out from its stranded position and joined mother.

I stood there for a few moments sweating hard and thought how very brave the monkeys had been. I did not feel sorry for the dead ones at first, because I knew what terrible intentions they had had for me. But like a stupid war where men must die uselessly over some misunderstanding, so had these magnificent jungle creatures. I had certainly not wanted to kill any of these animals, nor could I afford the ammunition, which was extremely difficult for me to obtain in those days. With the loss of eight fine males from the troupe, I thought at first I had been guilty of removing the best sires, but I watched twice that number of excellent moving away slowly with the rest of the troupe about ten minutes later. It had been one of the largest groups of Pigtails I had seen, numbering at what I guessed to be close to a hundred monkeys. There would be, I felt, few other incidents when members of this huge troupe would give up their lives again under similar circumstances. Normally they would be avoiding man and tending busily to their search for food, with few other than the Clouded Leopard to snatch a member here and there while the troupe slept in the top of tall trees.

Like the courage which the attacking monkeys had gotten from the sound of each other’s loud barking, my young Lahu friend Ca Ti took heart when he heard my rifle sounding off again and again. He soon came racing back up the hill to me, and because he was a Lahu son of a meat hunter, admired with joy the nice pile of meat that could now be had from the slain monkeys. For my part, I felt no joy just then, and wished that I had had the young lad’s agility to have got away from the slaughter that I was forced to commit.

Tracks of an Intruder by Gordon Young is a true classic, a book that you’ll find yourself reading a 2nd and 3rd time. It’s out of print but you can find copies here on Abebooks.com Young is still alive today and lives in the USA. He was born in Yunnan, China to Christian missionaries and was raised in Burma and Thailand.


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