The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary of Ubud is one of the town’s top attractions. Hidden within the verdant sanctuary is the main temple of Pura Dalem, but most tourists come not just for that, but also for the primates scampering within the sanctuary. The long-trailed macaques that make the site their home number in the hundreds (600 plus at last count), so in the area, tourists are a minority.
Although the monkeys are used to humans, they are still wild animals and visitors should follow five simple rules to avoid the risk of being bitten.
Pack it away
Ensure you have no food at all on you – the monkeys can smell it and they will jump on you to look for food. Unless you want little monkey hands in your pockets and backpacks, don’t bring any food with you into the forest. Also, put away unsecured items like sunglasses, cameras, hats, water bottles and jewellery. If you want to be extra safe, and keep your stuff away from clever zip-opening monkeys, padlock your bag. The monkeys have learned that plastic bags = food, so if carry a plastic bag into the sanctuary, be prepared for it to be ripped away from you pretty quick! If they can see it, they’ll try to grab it, so be warned.
Don’t smile or stare
Baring teeth is a sign of aggression in primate communities. While the monkeys’ cute antics may trigger laughter, don’t make eye contact and smile at them, especially large dominant males. It could be taken as a challenge and a threat. If a monkey does appear aggressive, avoid eye contact and back away slowly while facing it. Don’t run – they’ll just take that as invitation to attack. Excessive staring is also threatening to the macaques, so don’t make eye contact with an individual monkey.
Just keep going
If they do clamber on you, don’t scream, yell or panic and definitely don’t grab them to try and get them off you. Just keep calm and continue walking normally. If you’ve followed Rule #1 above, they’ll soon realise you have no food or interesting bits they can make off with, and then they’ll lose interest and drop off. Some of them aren’t interested in food – they’re just curious little creatures and once their curiosity is satisfied they’ll go find something else to bother.
Avoid the large dominant males and mothers with babies
Monkeys have a complex social structure and the large males are aggressive. Don’t tease, approach or threaten the large males (or even some of the smaller ones!) and don’t get too close to mothers and their babies as they can get hostile. They are still wild animals and their personal space should be respected – even if they don’t seem to respect yours!
Don’t feed the monkeys
They’re fed by the keepers and are always foraging on their own – they don’t really need to be fed anymore! If you do feed them, be aware that a bunch of bananas will render you monkey bait immediately. Separate each banana before entering the forest – that way you can hand them out one by one. It’s probably safer to leave the fruit on the ground instead of feeding them by hand. Families with small children especially need to exercise caution as the monkeys can get aggressive if there is food around or if they are teased and they will bite.
The Monkey Forest is a beautiful, atmospheric place – rippling sunlight, dark shadows, old moss, crumbling temples slowly being subsumed by the jungle – but the experience can be ruined by a monkey bite or scratch. If you are hurt, go to a doctor immediately as a monkey bite can cause rabies, which is fatal. Even if the animal is not rabid, a bite or scratch can be infected, so it’s best to seek medical attention as soon as possible.