More than 50 individuals have been attacked by a group of roaming macaque monkeys in and around the southern Japanese city of Yamaguchi in the past three weeks.
No serious injuries have been reported, but the victims were all advised to get hospital treatment, per Yuri Kageyama from the Associated Press. The monkeys have mostly targeted children and women, though officials say attacks on men and the elderly have become more frequent.
“They are so smart, and they tend to sneak up and attack from behind, often grabbing at your legs,” city official Masato Saito tells the AP. “I have never seen anything like this my entire life.”
Japanese macaques (Macaca fuscata), also called snow monkeys, are well-known for their habit of bathing in hot springs during the winter. They typically live in troops of about 20 to 30, but the groups can sometimes have more than 100 individuals. These monkeys were once considered endangered in Japan, but their population has rebounded, and they are now listed as least concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The animals can live about 22 to 27 years. Male Japanese macaques weigh about 25 pounds while females are about 18.5 pounds.
Human-monkey conflicts are becoming increasingly common as the macaque population grows and their natural habitat is destroyed, Mieko Kiyono, an expert in wildlife management and professor at Kobe University, tells CNN’s Jessie Yeung and Emiko Jozuka
“Japanese macaque monkeys have coexisted alongside humans since the Edo period—Japan is very mountainous and communities live close to mountains where monkeys live, so it is easy for monkeys to enter villages and towns,” she tells CNN.
Some macaques have reportedly broken into buildings through unlocked doors and windows, and one elderly man was attacked in his sleep, write Arata Yamamoto and Dylan Butts for NBC News. Residents have now been advised to keep their doors and windows shut.
The monkeys evaded traps laid out for them, so Yamaguchi city hall hired a unit to hunt them with tranquilizers. Earlier this week, hunters killed a four-year-old male monkey on the grounds of a school after they identified it as one of the assailants. Originally city officials thought only one monkey was responsible, but the assaults didn’t stop after the monkey was killed.
“Eyewitnesses describe monkeys of different sizes, and even after the capture we’ve been getting reports of new attacks,” a city official who declined to be named tells the Agence France-Presse.
Japanese macaque monkeys take an open-air hot spring bath as snowflakes fall at the Jigokudani Monkey Park, Japan pic.twitter.com/baD1j3DOoJ— AFP News Agency (@AFP) January 19, 2014
But officials say so many attacks within a short time period are rare, per the AFP. Some residents are now carrying umbrellas and tree cutting scissors to fend off potential monkey assaults, according to the publication.
“It might be acceptable and understandable if they just ate agricultural crops alone,” Saito tells the New York Times’ Hisako Ueno and Mike Ives. “But if they harm humans, we need to do something.”