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A Tale of Two Islands’ Monkeys: Tioman vs. Sentosa

Long-tailed macaques are also called crab-eating macaques, but here in Singapore it’s a rare occurrence to see them doing just that.  However, I recently had the great pleasure to see some honest-to-goodness crab-eating, crab-eating macaques.  Typically, I see the Singapore monkeys chowing down on lush forest fruits or local garbage cuisine.  On an excursion to Pulau Tioman, an island off the eastern coast of peninsular Malaysia, I couldn’t pass up the chance to hit a spot called Monkey Bay!  When I arrived in Tekek, I was thrilled to see some resident long-tailed macaques behind my bungalow nomming on green mangos.  Of course this came with the usual grievances from the property owners that the monkeys are sometime emboldened enough to snatch food from the kitchen.

Green mangoes ripe for the monkeys of Tioman behind the Swiss Cottage Bungalow.
Green mangoes ripe for the monkeys of Tioman behind the Swiss Cottage Bungalow. Photo – Amy Klegarth
A monkey who retains his chain collar from his previous life as a pet.
A monkey who has retained his chain collar from his previous life as a pet. Photo – Amy Klegarth

My bungalow’s monkeys can be contrasted against the long-tailed macaques of Monkey Bay who come out of the forest at low tide to forage on some fresh seafood!  Okay, so I didn’t directly see one eat a crab (huge disappointment) but they were certainly finding something under all those rocks.  It was really incredible to watch them lift and meticulously examine rocks that easily weighed as much they did in search of a fine beach meal.  This type of foraging behavior is now common only in regions without major disturbances and build-up near the shores, regions that are becoming increasing few and far between.  There are even macaques in portions of Myanmar and Thailand that spend so much time foraging beaches and low tide zones that they have extensive cultures of tool use.  One of my hosts here in Singapore, Dr. Michael Gumert and his PhD. student Amanda Tan, both study these populations examining how they use rocks and shells to harvest oysters and other seafood. Read all about it here and in Amanda’s most recent post here.

Foraging at Monkey Bay during low tide.
Foraging at Monkey Bay during low tide. Photo – Amy Klegarth
Looking for some fresh seafood at Monkey Bay, Tioman.
Looking for some fresh seafood at Monkey Bay, Tioman. Photo – Amy Klegarth
Overturning rocks during low tide to get at some fresh seafood.
Overturning rocks during low tide to get at some fresh seafood. Photo – Amy Klegarth

The monkeys of Tioman are what I like to think of as Kampong monkeys – those living a more ‘traditional’ village lifestyle.  They are much more shy than their more urban counterparts – especially in a place like Sentosa.  Sentosa is known as the playground of Singapore – a place for local staycations and all forms of amusement including 5-star resorts, theme-parks, beach bars and luxury golf courses.  There are two groups of monkeys that call Sentosa home and I’ve had a notoriously difficult time sampling them (including the loss of one milkshake).  The monkeys are known to dine on meals from the 5-star Rasa Sentosa, much to the chagrin of hotel managers.  They even occasionally join vacationers for a dip in the pool after a tough day in the trees. This field season, after a frustrating and monkey-less September day I decided it was time to change my sampling routine.  These monkeys were clearly living their own version of resort life, relaxing all day inside the forest fortress that is Fort Siliso and coming out to play in the late afternoon.  I decided for my next trip to Sentosa, instead of booking it to the island early and waiting around all day for the monkeys to not appear,  I would instead be a tourist for the afternoon before heading to the monkeys normal hangouts at the Rasa and the golf club.  One sunny afternoon on the beach and two groups of monkeys later, I finally had my samples.

TTFN, ta ta for now,

Amy

Fancy accommodations for the local macaques of Sentosa.  A pool that the monkeys sometimes like to play in to the ire of hotel management.
Fancy accommodations for the local macaques of Sentosa. A pool that the monkeys sometimes like to play in to the ire of hotel management. Photo – Amy Klegarth
The monkeys enjoy dropping in on hotel guest and breakfast goers at the Rasa.
The monkeys enjoy dropping in on hotel guest and breakfast goers at the Rasa. Photo – Amy Klegarth
Tourists and taxis passing by the Rasa Sentosa troop.
Tourists and taxis passing by the Rasa Sentosa troop. Photo – Amy Klegarth