Listening In

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Visiting relatives

6th January 2012

In winter, the monkeys of the Jigokudani Yaenkoen nature park get serious about bath time.

Images like this one from the park staff is what draws visitors from all over the world to this mountainous corner of Nagano prefecture.

But when I visited in May last year, there were some monkeys in the hot springs too. Just without the surrounding snow.

Japanese macaques are unusual because most primate species are found in the tropical or sub-tropical belts. For adapting to life so far north of the equator, the macaques have earned the nickname, snow monkeys.

But, as the park staff are keen to tell you, there's more to the macaques than their fondness for hot springs.

A monkey is groomed, whether it likes it or not.

A youngster playing on some ropes near the hot springs bath. I saw many people in the park with the same expression as the one that this visitor has.

There were so many monkeys wandering around that some were overlooked.

But how close really can you get to the macaques?

This close...

This close...

But not this close. The hand belongs to the chief of the park. Another official - I was there on a work trip - told me that the only human the monkeys will approach like this is the chief. 'It's like they know he's the boss,' he said. He sounded a bit envious.

And, unless you're another macaque in the herd, getting this close is probably a little out of line.

Still, the amount of access is remarkable. Especially since they seem happy to ignore you and get on with the business of grooming, bathing and foraging.

While the images of the macaques in the snow have made them famous, if you visit them in other seasons, you'll might see something like this.

Visitor Masako Ito took this shot of a baby monkey seeking shade under a bench.

I think my Kawaii-O-Meter just broke.

No comments: