Authorities continue their hunt for the wild monkeys terrorizing Yamaguchi City in Japan as reports of attacks on civilians have climbed to 45 since the beginning of July.
The Yamaguchi Prefectural Police previously set up traps and patrol teams with nets on high alert after 14 people were bitten or scratched by wild monkeys roaming the Ogori district of Yamaguchi City.
The attack was previously blamed on a single Japanese macaque. However, authorities now say they are unsure if the attacks were done by one or several rogue monkeys.
The attacks have since increased to at least 45 people since July 8, prompting the police to turn to tranquilizer guns to capture the wild monkeys.
The Japanese macaques, also known as snow monkeys, are reportedly a common sight on three of the four main Japanese islands, including the Yamaguchi island of Honshu. However, the spate of attacks are unusual in the region.
“Recently, we’ve heard of cases where the monkey has clung onto a person’s leg and once that person tries to get them off, they get bitten or they’ve gotten sprung on from behind,” Masato Saito, an official from the Yamaguchi city hall, told CNN. “This is a very unusual occurrence; they have never come into an urban area like this before and assaulted this many people.”
The first reported attack was on an infant, who was badly scratched when a monkey invaded their home. Other attacks include a 4-year-old girl who was scratched when a monkey entered a local kindergarten classroom and a woman in her 30s who was bitten while drying laundry on her second-floor balcony.
Once a vulnerable species, Japanese macaques were recently listed as a species of “Least Concern” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Their recovery has caused them to come into conflict with humans, according to a study from Yamagata University. With less distance between them and humans, there is a cultural shift in attitudes toward the monkeys and changes in human behavior. Changes in forest environments are also cited as a cause of serious conflicts.
“In Japan, more and more monkeys are coming into homes and farms, damaging crops,” Mieko Kiyono, an expert in wildlife management, told CNN. “Local governments have measures to chase the monkeys away — for example, they may use fireworks to chase them back into their habitat.”
However, she noted that the measures may not always work, leading to the monkeys developing hostility toward humans.
“Monkeys who learn to react against humans will join other herds, leading to more monkeys that do not fear humans,” Kiyono said.