Monkey Thieves, Drunk Elephants — Mary Roach Reveals A Weird World Of Animal ‘Crime’

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Macaques check out a camera in Galtaji Temple in Jaipur, India. Monkeys have been known to sneak into swimming pools, courts and even the halls of India’s Parliament. One attorney told author Mary Roach about a macaque that infiltrated a medical institute and began pulling out patient IVs.

Vishal Bhatnagar/NurPhoto via Getty Images


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Vishal Bhatnagar/NurPhoto via Getty Images


The Two-Way
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Roach reports that the monkeys’ mischief extends beyond bananas. Macaques have been known to sneak into swimming pools, courts and even the halls of India’s Parliament. One attorney told Roach about a macaque that infiltrated a medical institute and began pulling out patient IVs.

«If somebody was getting, you know, a glucose drip, [the monkey would] suck on the needle like it was a Popsicle,» she says.


Parallels
It’s Bananas: India Hires ‘Monkey Mimics’ To Scare Away Real Ones

But it’s not just monkeys that are causing chaos. Roach writes about a variety of animal misbehaviors in her new book, Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law. As part of her research, she learned how to examine wildlife «crime» scenes (when a bear or cougar attacks a human) and how people prevent elephants, emus and bears from destroying their property.

Though her book refers to animal «crimes,» Roach stresses that she uses that term loosely: «They’re obviously just animals … following their instinct.»

Interview Highlights

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Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law by Mary Roach

Penguin Random House


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Penguin Random House


National
Man Escapes Cougar: ‘Dude, I Don’t Feel Like Dying Today’

There are a lot of fascinating similarities with a crime scene where a human has killed another human. In other words, the scene of the «crime,» if you will, is taped off. The officers come in, they secure the scene, they’re gathering evidence, putting the little evidence flags down. They have to do it very carefully because there may be a bear or a cougar in the region — because these animals tend to cache their victim and hang around, and come back and feed again. So [the officers] come in very carefully and well-armed, but they’re gathering evidence. And the first thing that they’re having to figure out is — and this is not something that cops on CSI would do — the first thing they need to figure out is what species killed this person. Was it a human? Was it a cougar? Or was it a wolf? Or was it a bear? And so we learned all the, kind of, hallmark telltale signs of a bear attack versus a cougar attack. And they kill very differently and for different reasons. …

There are a lot of fascinating similarities with a crime scene where a human has killed another human. In other words, the scene of the ‘crime,’ if you will, is taped off.

Then you move on to actually identifying the individual. And this was amazing to me because, if you have a suspect — in other words, if you trapped an animal on the scene, say a bear — you, if you were the predator attack specialist, would look at the DNA of the animal versus the DNA of the victim, and you’d be establishing a link. And if the link wasn’t there, the suspect is released. There was a case up in Canada where two bears were trapped, and they were not the right bear and they were let go. It has these fascinating overlaps with the human jurisprudence system.

On bear break-ins in Aspen, Colo.


National
Bears Stuffing Themselves Near Massachusetts Homes

French door handles — the building code forbids those because it’s so easy for a bear to just push down and push in. Anybody with a paw can do that. You’re not supposed to use even a hollow door knob, because the bears can crush that, get a grip with their teeth, crush it and turn it. Then, obviously, automatically opening doors are a problem. There are bears that walk into ski resorts and hotels just through the automatic door. That makes it very easy.

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Roach’s previous books include Stiff, Spook and Bonk.

Jen Siska/Penguin Random House


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Jen Siska/Penguin Random House


Animals
Elephants Wandered Hundreds Of Miles Into A Chinese City. Nobody Knows Why

[Elephants are] social animals. They move around in groups, and they eat a lot of food. They’re very big animals. So they start running out of food, and they tend to look to farmers’ fields. Imagine you’re a villager and you’ve put the crops in and they’re starting to be ready to harvest and this group of elephants comes in, and, first of all, tramples a lot of it and also starts to eat your bounty there. That’s an upsetting thing. It often happens at night, so you’ve got people from the village running out, maybe with fire on a stick or loud noises just trying to scare them off in a way that’s quite chaotic. And so you have elephants freaked out and panicked, and you have people running around and screaming in the dark. … Elephants are not preying on people; they’re not stalking them and killing them. But they’re large, and you just need to get knocked over or stepped on and you can be killed. So that is often the way it goes down.

On how elephants like to get drunk


Author Interviews
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There’s a homebrew kind of a fermented drink called haria. Elephants enjoy that very much, and it’s quite fragrant — they can smell it inside a home. So people will try to bring it inside, thinking to keep it safe from the elephants, which is a very bad idea because an elephant can very easily take down the wall of the structure to get at this fermented drink. And elephants, when they get drunk, they’re, for the most part, not a mean drunk. But sometimes if it’s a male elephant in musth, which is kind of a period of hormonal tumult, you don’t want to be around a drunk male elephant in musth because they can be very aggressive. Otherwise they tend to kind of wander off and wrap their trunk around themselves, one study reported, and just sleep it off.

On how emus outsmarted the Australian military

It was a group of farmers in Western Australia, I think 1932, who were dealing with a large mobs of emus that would come in and feast on their grain, their wheat. And they contacted the military and first asked, «Can we borrow some machine guns?» And the military said, «No, you cannot borrow our machine guns. However, we will send Gen. Meredith and his men and they will take care of the problem.» So Gen. Meredith shows up with a coterie of machine gunners who set themselves up, waited for the emus to come. Emus were very good at not ever really getting within range. They also seem to be able to withstand the bullets. I think they weren’t withstanding them, but at some point it seemed to Gen. Meredith that these birds were invincible. He was actually quite awed by their ability to withstand this onslaught of bullets. I think the men [had bad aim]. But in the end, Gen. Meredith withdrew with his machine gunners, and the problem continued for the farmers. The emus basically won.

Sam Briger and Kayla Lattimore produced and edited the audio of this interview. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Deborah Franklin adapted it for the web.

  • animal cognition
  • forensic science
  • macaques
  • animal behavior
  • Elephants

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