Recently there has been a renewed discussion about the nature of monkeys and apes and how we should view and treat them. I was reminded of this when I was at Machía Park in Villa Tunari in Bolivia, where among other animals, monkeys live. But it’s not a zoo, so the monkeys are free to show up or leave into the nearby jungle.
At first, I was alone in the park and trod silently, not wanting to scare the monkeys. But I only saw one, high up in a tree. When I was at a vantage point overlooking the river, a group of young travelers showed up who were less silent than me. I was hoping they would leave soon because I wanted to see monkeys, not some hippies. But I underestimated the monkeys’ longing for social interaction. After they had heard humans, they actually came jumping through the trees, lowering themselves and joining us at the wooden structure.
At first, they climbed on the roof, looking at us with some timidity, then they came down and closer.
Now the monkeys were so preoccupied with the other group that they didn’t notice me approaching from behind.
One monkey sat down next to a guy and later fell asleep on his leg.
Another monkey apparently was a fitness freak who did his work-out and his stretching in front of everyone else.
When the group left, something more beautiful happened. A boy had shown up who took the same approach to nature as me: be quiet, enjoy the view. He stood at the rails of the terrace silently, staring into the distance, when a monkey approached him cautiously.
The boy didn’t say anything, so the monkey turned away, not wanting to disturb him. But when a second monkey showed up, the first monkey moved closer towards the boy and put his arm over the young man’s shoulder and around his neck, as if to signal “don’t be so lonely! You can be part of our group too.”
It was a beautiful thing to watch. The distinction between human and animal became blurred at that moment. At least with monkeys, we have much more in common than separates us. Not knowing their language doesn’t give us any right to lock them up in zoos. Otherwise, we might as well lock up many Chinese or young children because I cannot speak with them either. This might extend to many other animals too. They may not have the same ability to express emotions as monkeys and humans, but it doesn’t mean that a cow or a pig are not attached to their calves or piglets that you kill for your barbecue tonight.