Are Animals Capable of Extortion?

You might not have to worry about losing your luggage on the way to Bali, but once you get there and go sightseeing, it's another story.

Macaques at Uluwatu Temple in Bali are infamous for grabbing tourists' belongings -- especially valuable items -- and returning them only when given food.
Macaques at Uluwatu Temple in Bali are infamous for grabbing tourists' belongings -- especially valuable items -- and returning them only when given food.

Bali’s ancient temple in Uluwatu is surrounded by monkeys known as long-tailed macaques, which are notorious for grabbing visitors' possessions and holding them for ransom, in the form of food. The macaques have become so adept at thieving that they even seem to know which items are the most valuable, preferring to nab cell phones and other electronics, wallets, and prescription glasses, rather than things people don't mind losing, like hair accessories or empty camera bags.

"These monkeys have become experts at snatching them from absent-minded tourists who didn’t listen to the temple staff’s recommendations to keep all valuables inside zipped handbags firmly tied around their necks and backs," said Jean-Baptiste Leca, an associate professor in psychology at the University of Lethbridge in Canada. Leca, who led a 273-day filmmaking trip to the temple, said the monkeys have also learned to bargain, holding out for better treats in exchange for higher-value possessions.

More about macaques:

  • Macaques have large social groups and a strict hierarchy overseen by a lead male family member.

  • Born with bright pink faces, hands, and feet, macaques' features darken as they grow older.

  • Macaques constitute the most widespread primate genus after humans, ranging all across Africa, Asia, and Europe.

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    • Macaques at Uluwatu Temple in Bali are infamous for grabbing tourists' belongings -- especially valuable items -- and returning them only when given food.
      Macaques at Uluwatu Temple in Bali are infamous for grabbing tourists' belongings -- especially valuable items -- and returning them only when given food.