Residents barricaded indoors, rival gang fights and no-go zones for humans.
Welcome to Lopburi, an ancient Thai city overrun by monkeys supercharged on junk food, whose population is growing out of control.
Pointing to the overhead netting covering her terrace, Kuljira Taechawattanawanna bemoans the monkey menace across the heart of the 13th-century city in the central province of the same name.
“We live in a cage, but the monkeys live outside,” she said. “Their excrement is everywhere, the smell is unbearable, especially when it rains.”
The fearless primates rule the streets around Prang Sam Yod Temple in the center of Lopburi, patrolling the tops of walls and brazenly ripping the rubber seals from the doors of parked vehicles.
Their antics were largely tolerated as a major lure for tourists who descended on the city before the COVID-19 pandemic to feed and take selfies with the plucky animals, but a government sterilization campaign is now being waged against the creatures after the pandemic provoked an unexpected change in their behavior.
As foreign tourism — Thailand’s biggest earner — seized up, so did the flow of free bananas tossed their way, prodding the macaques to turn to violence.
Footage of hundreds of them brawling over food in the streets went viral on social media in March.
Their growing numbers — doubling in three years to 6,000 — have made an uneasy coexistence with their human peers almost intolerable. Some areas of the city have simply been surrendered to the monkeys.
An abandoned movie theater is the macaques’ headquarters — and cemetery.
Dead monkeys are laid to rest by their peers in the projection room in the theater’s rear and any human who enters is attacked.
Nearby, Taweesak Srisaguan, the owner of a shop, displays stuffed tiger and crocodile toys to try to scare off the monkeys, who regularly snatch spray-paint cans from his store.
No one in Lopburi seems to remember a time without the monkeys, with some speculating that the urban creep into nearby forest displaced them into the city.
Residents have taken it upon themselves to feed the macaques to prevent clashes, but locals say the sugary diet of fizzy drinks, cereal and candies has fueled their sex lives.
“The more they eat, the more energy they have ... so they breed more,” said Pramot Ketampai, who manages Prang Sam Yod Temple’s surrounding shrines.
The macaques’ mob fights have drawn the attention of authorities, who this month restarted a sterilization program after a three-year pause.
Wildlife department officers lure the animals into cages with fruit and take them to a clinic, where they are anesthetized, sterilized and left with a tattoo to mark their neutering. They aim to fix 500 of the monkeys by tomorrow.
However, the campaign might not be enough to quell their numbers and the department has a long-term plan to build a sanctuary in another part of the city, but that would likely be met with resistance from the human residents.
“We need to do a survey of the people living in the area first,” wildlife department official Narongporn Daudduem said. “It’s like dumping garbage in front of their houses and asking them if they’re happy or not.”
Taweesak said that despite his daily joust with the creatures, he would miss them if they are moved.
“I’m used to seeing them walking around, playing on the street,” he said. “If they’re all gone, I’d definitely be lonely.”
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