Thursday, Jan. 22, 2004
* Japanese name: Nihon zaru
* Scientific name: Macaca fuscata/cyclopis
* Description: Macaques have thick fur everywhere apart from their characteristic bare red face. The Japanese macaque, Macaca fuscata, is the only native species of (nonhuman) primate in Japan. There is another primate species living on these islands: Taiwanese macaques, M. cyclopis. The Taiwanese macaques escaped from private zoos last century and bred with native macaques. The result is a hybrid population of monkeys.
* Where to find them: A 1990 estimate put the numbers of native macaques at 35,000-50,000. However, due to deforestation and shooting by farmers, the population has been declining and Japanese macaques are listed as threatened. There is also a rare subspecies found in Yakushima, Macaca fuscata yakui, which is listed as endangered.
* Food: Fruit, leaves, berries, seeds, insects, buds, shoots and small vertebrates. Macaques also raid crops. When food is scarce in winter, they rely on fat laid down in the summer.
* Special features: Little is known about how hybridization has affected macaque behavior. Taiwanese macaques tend to form small groups with one male controlling the females, whereas Japanese macaques are sexually promiscuous. Female Japanese macaques like novelty, preferring to mate with new males rather than ones they've mated with over the last 4-5 years. In a declining population, such behavior will maximize what genetic diversity there is left. Like humans, macaques have opposable thumbs. Researchers have reported seeing macaques using their thumbs to make snowballs, and rolling them in the snow to make bigger snowballs. It was not reported whether the macaques had snowball fights, but friends of mine told me they once encountered a group of macaques that stoned them as they approached. Such an original yet ill-tempered response is typical of macaques, and indeed is said to be typical of those humans born in the year of the monkey.