Phana is sometimes known as ‘Monkey Town’. I am not sure that the
people of Phana really like that, but I notice that there is a large, framed
collage of photos labelled MONKEY TOWN just outside the Mayor’s office at Tetsaban Phana. Certainly the monkeys that live in our local forest are a draw for a small number of tourists and visitors from the nearby towns and villages.
What is less certain is whether or not Phana gains anything from this tourism or whether the monkeys gain any real benefit from it. We gain litter, yes, but that may be all other than a certain notoriety. But I wonder whether Phana needs to gain anything, at least in the sense of profiting from the presence of the monkeys.
The monkeys do make us feel good. Phana lives quite comfortably with them (give or take a few complaints from farmers whose land adjoins the forest). It has generally been regarded as auspicious that the monkeys live in Don Chao Poo, home to the town’s guardian spirit, and to four Buddha images. People feel privileged to be host to the monkeys. The people who come from outside to feed them evidently feel good about doing so, even if some of the girls scream when large monkeys make a grab for food they are holding.
Why do we love the monkeys so?
They make us feel at one with nature, I think. We are consorting with ‘the wild things’ when we go into the forest to feed them. Feeding them makes us feel kind and generous.
Feeding these monkeys makes us forget that we have exterminated most of the wild things around here.
At the same time, we see these long-tailed macaques as very human-like: the babies are cute, the mothers take good care of them; the young males respect the older males, the older males look wise and are very macho.
This may be the world as we would like it to be.
But it is time for Phana to re-think its relationship with the monkeys here. The Governor of Amnat Charoen Province has suggested (with a little prodding, perhaps) that some sort of ‘Centre’ should be established in connection with them. Selling souvenirs may have been the extent of his thinking on the subject. Several people have put forward the idea of an educational facility, a Study Centre, and contact has been made with Thai academics who are interested in the study of primates and their place in the ecosystem (see the page ‘Macaque Project‘). First, though, we must decide exactly what sort of relationship we want to have with the monkeys, and what sort of habitat we are willing to allow them.
COMMENTS and SUGGESTIONS would be very much appreciated.