From the motorbike muggers of London to the quick-handed thieves of New York, pickpockets are a global scourge for travellers. But some of the craftiest criminals crawl on all fours, and can be as cute as they are cunning.
Snatching smartphones through third-floor windows and prescription glasses from your nose, monkeys have developed a reputation as devious animals. However, their tricks don’t just threaten your valuables, they pose serious risks to your health and safety.
Here are some common monkey scams to protect yourself against overseas, and strategies for staying safe from all kinds of animal antics while travelling.
Four dangerous monkey encounters
1. Rabies nightmares
The lush jungles of Southeast Asia offer some of the most spectacular nature travel experiences in the world. But with a healthy jungle comes a healthy number of animal inhabitants. Macaques, gibbons, langurs and orangutans - the diversity and volume of monkeys in Southeast Asia is staggering. Seeing them in their natural habitat can be a bucket-list experience, but can quickly turn into one to forget, as this traveller learnt the hard way.
After being bitten by an aggressive ape in Thailand, they needed an emergency round of rabies vaccinations costing over $4,000. Another traveller suffered a similar fate after being bitten at the popular Ubud Monkey Forest in Bali.
2. High-climbing thief
Understandably, this traveller thought their valuables were safe behind a barred third-floor window in their hotel room. So you can imagine their surprise to walk in on an acrobatic monkey reaching in between the bars to snatch their smartphone and toiletries!
3. Pet problems
Wild monkeys aren’t the only ones with a temper, as this traveller discovered. While touring Thailand’s Phi Phi Islands, the traveller was charmed by a local pet monkey. Thinking it was safe to pat, the traveller quickly had their finger bitten and needed immediate medical attention and rabies vaccinations.
Remember, monkeys may be cute and even kept as pets, but not all are people-friendly and even fewer are vaccinated. In a situation like this, it’s best to look but don’t touch, and keep at least an arm’s length away.
4. Tourist traps
Monkeys in Southeast Asia are renowned for congregating around popular tourist attractions like temples. For them, it means one thing - food. Monkeys are intelligent creatures and know that tourists are more likely to offer food if their smartphone depends on it. We’ve had claims from travellers who have had mobile phones, backpacks and sunglasses stolen by monkeys around tourist attractions.
How to stay safe around monkeys
Understanding how monkeys behave is one of the best ways to stay safe around them. They’re curious and cunning creatures and most encounters with them are peaceful. However, there are enough horror stories to know that you should take great care of yourself and your valuables when in their company.
Here are 10 things to remember when seeing monkeys overseas:
1. Don’t feed them
Like seagulls, monkeys will flock to any offer of food. And if you only manage to feed a handful of the gang, the rest are sure to become agitated (even to the point of violence). Monkeys often swipe backpacks from travellers that contain food, so leave your snacks at the hotel.
2. Don’t fight back
If you find your camera, phone, sunglasses or backpack is snatched from you by a furry thief, don’t start a game of monkey tug-of-war. To avoid potentially poisonous scratches, it’s best to concede defeat and let it go.
3. Don’t smile
You may feel like you’re being polite, but monkeys will take your show of teeth as a threat. If a monkey is baring its teeth at you, back away slowly while maintaining eye contact.
4. Don’t give them a chance
Like human pickpockets, monkeys have a keen sense of sniffing out easy targets. Unattended luggage, dangling camera straps, loose jewellery or outstretched mobile phones are all invitations for unwanted attention, so keep your valuables close to your chest at all times.
5. Don’t tease them
As playful and cute as they might appear, monkeys don’t appreciate being annoyed. Never poke, prod or pester monkeys.
6. Don’t annoy the alpha male
Larger, older-looking monkeys are often the alpha male of the group and the most likely to turn aggressive to defend themselves and their clan. Take particular care if you see an alpha male approach.
7. Don’t touch
No matter how calm and collected a monkey seems, it’s never a good idea to pat them. Travellers may be tempted to touch baby monkeys, but this can cause the older animals in the group to leap to its defense.
8. Don’t take a selfie
44% of travellers say they take up to 20 selfies a day while on holiday. While posing with a wild monkey can seem like the perfect selfie, it’s also an easy way to lose your phone or worse. Monkeys have been known to attack travellers posing for selfies when they see their reflection in the phone’s screen, thinking they’re under threat.
9. Don’t resist treatment
If you’re scratched or bitten by a monkey, seek urgent medical attention right away because even small scratches can become infected with rabies.
10. Don’t turn your back
If you do find yourself in a situation where monkeys are acting aggressively towards you, it’s important that you don’t flee suddenly in the opposite direction. Like other animals, monkeys know when they’ve got the upper hand in an attack situation, and turning your back to run can be a sign that they’ll win the fight. Stay facing the aggressor, make yourself appear larger than you are, look it in the eye and back away slowly.
Other wildlife dangers overseas
We often receive claims from unlucky travellers who have found themselves on the wrong side of a natural encounter. Snakes, spiders, dogs, jellyfish and even kittens and mice have caused damage to person and property on holidays all over the world.
Wildlife in the USA is incredibly diverse, but not all of its critters are pleasant to behold. We’ve had multiple claims from travellers who have been bitten by scorpions and snakes while exploring the American wilderness.
Likewise, Fiji’s islands offer some of the world’s most stunning marine ecosystems, but can come with a sting. One traveller suffered an allergic reaction to a jellyfish sting in Fiji, requiring air evacuation.
Avoiding nature accidents overseas
Staying safe overseas often boils down to doing the right research, and this is certainly true when it comes to avoiding animal accidents. Whether you’re glamping overseas or embarking on a hiking holiday, it’s important that you prepare for any risks you’ll face in the natural environment.
This means packing a well-stocked first aid kit, suitable enclosed clothing and insect repellent. But it also means learning how to behave around animals to avoid confrontation.
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