Mugged by Monkeys in South Africa

Photography: John McCutcheon

Burchell’s Bush Lodge, near Kruger National Park, South Africa, left clear instructions not to leave doors or windows open as the monkeys were a danger.  They’d tear up kitchens, steal from luggage, and ransack everything looking for food.  But in the process of passing each other as we unloaded luggage, groceries, and camera equipment into the chalet, we failed to close the door.

I glanced toward the kitchen cabinets; a Vervet monkey perched itself on the counter about to ransack our groceries.  These monkeys are quick and its sticky little fingers were already working on a tied plastic bag full of food.

“Oh, Yeow, a monkey!”

John flagged his arms up and down and dashed across the room toward the monkey, “Get out!  Get out of here!”

With split second timing monkey sprang from the counter and out the door.  Once we checked out the counter, we glared out the door.  Monkey sat there looking back at us almost with tears in his eyes.  It was scary – a combination of guilt, insult, and hurt combined into a human facial expression.  John yelled, stomped his foot and waved his arms again.  Monkey swung away and never reappeared during our stay.

At another Kruger campsite, we watched a band of monkeys encircle one end of a picnic area.  A picnicker close to us turned his back to his table.  Quicker than popping grease from frying chicken livers, a male monkey snatched a bag of bread.  He landed only a few feet from the picnic table, tearing open the plastic bag.  At least a dozen of his friends raced up and snatched as much as they could from the thief.

We didn’t laugh aloud, but as soon as we got in the car, we exploded.

Then it happened to us.

At Tshakwane an army of monkeys surrounded us while we spread our picnic lunch over a table.  Monkeys appeared to keep their distance or so we thought.  As we, each quietly lost  in her own thoughts, munched on sandwiches, Pam saw a Kodak moment and jumped up with her camera.  At that exact second a monkey sprang forward, grabbed her sandwich, and landed about ten feet away.  Other monkeys assailed the sandwich, tearing it to pieces.  One monkey managed to grab the slice of ham.  Up a tree and onto a high limb, he turned the ham over and around in several directions as if he wasn’t sure what he should do.

Pam wailed, “That was the last slice of cheese.  Is there any more ham?”  We weren’t any help either as it was too funny and Pam had to scrounge what she could for a second sandwich.  She planted herself and gripped this sandwich securely.  Her feelings were hurt too.

Finally it became apparent that we couldn’t trust even one monkey.  It’s like they live in the hood and work in packs to mug any morsel they can.

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