For nearly a year, French primatologists Cédric Sueur and Marie Pelé lived in Japan where they studied the intricate social networks of the Japanese macaque, also known as the snow monkey. The Old World monkey is special for a lot of reasons, starting from its location which makes it the most northern-living monkey in the world, to its eccentric behaviour.
Around 115,000 snow monkeys live in Japan, but despite their large numbers and habitats ranging close to human settlements — sometimes too dangerously close — few people know how truly marvelous these creatures can be. Sueur and Pelé have seen Japanese macaques washing potatoes, riding deer for transportation, taking hot-spring baths, handling stones, fighting with snowballs and many other things you’d class as “human”.
This lack of awareness among the general public inspired the two to write a popular science book. They enlisted the help of Alexandre Bonnefoy, a professional illustrator who shared a passion for Japanese macaques, who added around 200 breathtaking photos, some of which are featured here. The book itself explains the ecological and social lives of the monkeys based on the primatologists’ research made in Japan aimed at unweaving the complex social networks of the monkeys.
“Macaques’ society is very similar to that of humans, with hierarchies, kin clans, and games of seduction and deception. By observing monkeys, from one generation to another, we can learn a lot about ourselves. The maxim of the three wise monkeys “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” originates in Japan. It appears in a 17th-century carving over a door of the famous Tōshō-gū shrine in Nikkō to illustrate Confucius’s Code of Conduct, and uses the monkey as a way to depict man’s life cycle. Observing Japanese macaques might also teach us how to live in harmony with our natural environment,” Sueur told Research Gate.
The book “Saru, singes du Japan” will appear in October in bookstores around French-speaking countries. The first edition is in French, but if there’s interest from international publishers it might be translated into other languages. Hopefully, it will be translated in Japanese where such a book would be most useful. According to the two French primatologists, around 20,000 Japanese macaques are murdered every year to keep their populations down. They’re seen as pests by many locals who have to keep the monkeys away from stealing crops and going into trash.