'Rebel Monkeys' Wreak Havoc in India

Thousands of "rebel monkeys" invade Indian city in search of food.

ByABC News via logo
November 13, 2009, 1:22 PM

Nov. 14, 2009— -- If the animal kingdom has a troublemaker, it must be the rhesus macaque.

The mischievous monkeys' knack for stealing food, trespassing, and fighting with each other has earned them the nickname "rebel monkeys."

"They're rebel monkeys in every sense of the word," said Mireya Mayor, a primatologist who works with the National Geographic Channel. "Some of them have been known to pickpocket people and tourists. They're just very, sort of, wickedly intelligent animals."

Wicked is right. They routinely break into vehicles to steal snacks, and rip off food from vegetable market vendors in the city of Jaipur, India.

More than 4,000 of the small, pink-faced creatures have invaded the claustrophobic streets of Jaipur, agitating residents and shop owners.

But no one is allowed to harm the mecaques, because monkeys are sacred in India.

It's the job of the official "government monkey catcher" to round up Jaipur's most unruly monkeys and cart them out of town.

But they often return, lured by the smell of human food. Ninety percent of their diet comes from humans, making it difficult for them to survive in the wild.

They'll eat just about anything people eat. Chocolate cookies are a favorite.

And their insatiable appetite often takes them to dangerous heights. Both their hands and feet have thumbs, making it easy to scurry up walls and amble across power lines in their relentless search for food. It can be a dangerous quest. Live power lines frequently shock or electrocute the dexterous creatures.

Perhaps the biggest threat they face is from each other. The monkeys move in packs of 50 or so, often led by a battle-scarred alpha male who's in charge of protecting the others.

When another pack encroaches on his territory, the results can be violent. The macaques are known to chase and bite their simian foes to teach them a valuable lesson.

"When they fight, they're mostly displaying to one another who's in charge, who's boss," Mayor said. "They're setting boundaries."