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The world around us is more complex than we think. For example, it turned out that monkeys can determine which is more expensive – a camera or an empty camera case. These intelligent animals have once again proved that they are our closest relatives.

Where did it happen

Exotic tropical countries attract tourists from all over the world. One of the most demanded islands among travelers is Bali, which is part of the Malay Archipelago (Indonesia). In addition to the sea and the tropics, this island has cultural monuments. For example, ancient Hindu temples.

Among the temples of Bali stands out Uluwatu – an ancient complex built in the X century. It is also interesting because many monkeys live on the territory of the temple. Local residents do not touch animals or harm them. They believe that it is the macaques that ensure the sanctity of the temple and drive away evil spirits from it.

Ever since tourists started visiting Uluwatu, the monkeys have had an additional reason to settle near the temple. Travelers actively feed agile animals. And if someone is in no hurry to get a treat, a monkey can steal a tourist’s thing (say, glasses) and offer to exchange it for food (coconut, mango or banana).

What scientists have found

The behavior of monkeys living near the Uluwatu Temple has been studied by scientists from the Natural and Technical Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Alberta Gambling Research Institute (AGRI). In particular, professor of psychology Jean-Baptiste Leca recorded the interaction of animals and tourists on camera for 273 days.

Unexpectedly, the researchers found an interesting pattern. It turns out that macaques have somehow learned to determine the value of things. Monkeys living in Uluwatu temple prefer to steal the most expensive and useful items from tourists – electronics, wallets, glasses. Hairpins and empty camera cases are of much less interest to them.

The monkeys noticed that for things that are of great value, people are ready to offer them more food or more delicious food. When exchanging stolen goods for food, macaques feel like masters of the situation. They give away less valuable items more quickly, having received a small portion of treats for them. But about expensive electronics, macaques have long negotiations with people. They do not agree to give up the thing until they receive an “equivalent” ransom for it. According to Jean-Baptiste Lek’s observations, the longest return process took 25 minutes. Of these, 17 minutes were spent negotiating with a cunning and clever animal.

The monkey took a selfie

Interestingly, macaques living in other parts of Bali do not have this ability. This means that such skills are developed in animals, and are not innate. Monkeys can pass on useful knowledge from generation to generation. Animals learn to hunt for valuable things of tourists from childhood. The stable skill of barter transactions in macaques is developed by about 4 years. Some monkeys are better at determining the true value of stolen items, some are worse.

According to Lek, the monkey population living near the Uluwatu Temple has been passing on its unique abilities to descendants for about 30 years. Monkeys that move to the south of Bali from other places can also learn useful skills from their more advanced relatives.


Post Author: Rachel Reinbauer

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