Long-tailed macaques beguiled by dragon fruit

By Viet Quoc    December 21, 2020 | 03:00 am PT
Over 30 long-tailed macaques, a threatened species, converge on Ta Cu National Reserve headquarters in Binh Thuan Province daily to binge on dragon fruit supplied by reserve guards.
Two monkeys sitting on the vine, waiting for dragon fruits in Ta Cu National Reserve. Photo by VnExpress/Viet Quoc.

Two monkeys scout for dragon fruit near Ta Cu National Reserve headquarters. Photo by VnExpress/Viet Quoc.

On a December day at the reserve’s guard post in Ham Minh Commune of the south central province's Ham Thuan Nam District, though the sky was windless, the trees shook with the arrival of monkeys from deep in the forest, part of the reserve.

The young monkeys, weighing roughly two to three kilograms with grey fur, enjoyed scrambling about while the adults, weighing six to eight kilograms with a patch of fur on their head and tails longer than their bodies, remained reserved. From further back, the troop’s red-faced alpha male silently observed the shenanigans.

As reserve guard Cao Van Quyet, 61, arrived with 20 kilograms of dragon fruit from the nearby village, a din started emanating from amid the branches as frenzied monkeys danced and swung about.

Before calling them down, Quyet carefully placed the dragon fruit along a wall for the troop to devour.

Cao Van Quyet putting dragon fruits on the terrace’s surrounding walls for the monkeys: Photo by VnExpress/Viet Quoc.

Cao Van Quyet arranges the dragon fruit along a wall. Photo by VnExpress/Viet Quoc.

While the adult monkeys, upon seeing a stranger taking photos, hesitated to come down, the young ones were much bolder, coming down to scoop up the juicy fruit before a swift retreat. After a while, the adults, some clutching infants in their forearms, slowly made their descent.

This unusual occurrence began eight years ago, when Quyet noticed a small troop of five monkeys frequently stealing dragon fruit meant for the pigs they raised. Sympathetic to their "plight", Quyet decided to bring back more dragon fruit, commencing a pattern that would outlast the pigs' presence.

"We got dragon fruit from surrounding farms. Most are unfit for sale, but sweet, which the monkeys love," he said.

An adult monkey going down to pick up the dragon fruit. Photo by VnExpress/Viet Quoc.

An adult monkey scampers off with a prized dragon fruit. Photo by VnExpress/Viet Quoc.

"Whenever they fail to return, we grow worried," Quyet said.

The original troop comprised of only five monkeys, but it has now surged to over 30 individuals, with many pregnant females, he said.

The long-tailed macaque is on Vietnam’s red list of threatened species, said Dinh Duc Linh, head of the technical department of Ta Cu National Reserve.

There are three smaller troops deeper into the jungle and on Cu Mountain near Thuan Nam Town of Binh Thuan Province. In total, there are roughly over 70 individual macaques in the reserve.

"We have been closely monitoring and raising awareness on protecting these monkeys," Linh added.

Ta Cu National Reserve, covering 10,500 hectares, spans the communes of Ham Minh, Ham Cuong, Thuan Quy, Tan Thanh and Tan Thuan, and Thuan Nam Town, boasting great biodiversity, including many protected species like pheasants, green peafowl, phasianidae and black-shanked douc.

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