The Sacred Monkey Forest of Padangtegal village, on the edge of Ubud in Bali, is a natural highlight for tourists – attracting roughly 10,000 visitors a month. A 2011 monkey census put the monkey population at exactly 605 crab-eating macaques (Macaca fascicularis), a figure which has no doubt shifted since. It is a lush, dark and deep green place which, with its shrines, stone-carved animals, Hindu gods and hanging roots and vines, would not be out of place in an Indianna Jones movie.
Whilst the macaques are called “crab-eating,” you will likely only see them eating bananas, durian, cucumbers and watermelon. Perhaps some species of fresh-water crab inhabits the primeval stream which runs through a short, steep gulch beneath a fantastical stone bridge, though I saw no evidence of this. The monkeys are, as monkeys will be, cheeky and impudent and will quite happily snatch anything faintly resembling food from visitors. If they were any larger, this would be more intimidating, yet it is certainly enough to give a person a fright, should one of them run up your leg. On my first visit there my brother made the mistake of buying some bananas to feed them and promptly found himself with three monkeys running up his legs onto his head and shoulders, hanging from his arms and snatching at the bananas. His only option was to drop the bunch, which vanished quicker than chips in the beaks of seagulls.
At quiet times the monkeys can be mysteriously absent, then suddenly appear in a bunch, usually chasing each other or seeking food. Many sit around in small family groups, unafraid of people, though seemingly more concerned about the mischievous intentions of their own kind. The group of monkeys in this shot were placidly sitting, maintaining a sort of crèche with several youngsters. The light was very low under the forest canopy and the exposure time less than instant, hence the blurring effect on the adults. I was very fortunate that the young monkey remained so still, creating the pleasing effect of sharpness and clarity in the midst of the textured blur of the adults’ fur. It is a cute face presented by the little one, if a little ghastly – like a strange homunculus. I do, however, like his curious little mohawk.