Monkeys at Uluwatu Temple in Bali have been terrorizing tourists for years, stealing everything from bags and bottles to sunglasses and smartphones.
While it’s already impressive that the cunning creatures have developed bartering skills to ensure they receive food from the victims in exchange for the stolen items, new research shows that the monkeys there have even learned which things matter most to us, prompting them to hold on to the more important items until an appropriate amount of food is offered.
No, the researchers aren’t suggesting the Bali macaques have access to a comprehensive price list showing the latest flagship smartphones, nor are they saying the animals have a profound understanding of people’s emotional attachment to their handsets. But what the monkeys have apparently noticed is just how frantic we become if they nab our phone, leading them to develop some pretty impressive haggling skills that no doubt ensure a full tummy by the end of the day.
The ongoing research, highlighted in a report by the Guardian, is led by Dr. Jean-Baptiste Leca, a psychology expert at the University of Lethbridge in Canada.
Leca said the fast-moving macaques have become highly skilled at grabbing smartphones and other items from tourists who foolishly ignore temple advice telling them to secure their gadgets and other valuables while exploring the grounds.
To gain a better understanding of how the temple monkeys and tourists interact, the research team studied video recordings taken over a period of more than six months. It soon became clear that if the monkeys deemed an item to have a high value — such as a smartphone — they would demand a greater amount of food for its safe return. “Negotiations” between the monkeys and their victims often involve a temple worker, with the researchers’ footage capturing one particularly intense session that lasted a lengthy 17 minutes before a resolution was reached and an amicable exchange of goods was able to take place.
This astonishing monkey business is actually a learned behavior, the researchers found, with the animals picking up the mischievous technique of robbing and bartering in their first four years of life.
Considering the extraordinary abilities of these slippery temple dwellers, perhaps the only surprise is that they’re not yet taking selfies with their stolen smartphones — like this one did a few years ago — before handing them back. That’d surely be worth an extra bunch of bananas in any negotiation.