My Smart and Loyal Macaque

Before moving to Cincinnati two years ago, I lived in many places and worked with a wide variety of animals.  A quick snapshot at the past 12 years looks something like this… two years in Thailand and Myanmar, short working session in Sydney, Australia, 4 years in three different areas of southern California, 3 years in Portland, Oregon, 8 months, in Reno Nevada, 8 months, in Gainesville, Florida, a few random months in Tacoma, Washington, and now more than two years in Cincinnati.

With Makine in Myanmar
With Makine in Myanmar

Living and working in all these amazing places I have some pretty interesting stories of courage, scary moments, and certainly a few experiences I will never forget.  One of those in particular comes to mind and I thought you might enjoy hearing about the time my 1-year-old Java Macaque saved my life.  It’s not very often you hear those words out of anyone’s mouth.

I was living on a remote island in Myanmar where I was doing veterinary work and training with dolphins.  However, while I was there, some local folks brought me a baby Java Macaque that they had found in the jungle.  She was very young and really should have still been on a bottle.  They did not know how to feed her or what she needed emotionally.  We didn’t exactly have an enclosure set up for her so we made due with what we had.  As she grew and we developed a strong relationship we were able to go for long walks in the Jungle and every night we would go for a run on the beach and a swim in the ocean.  The first few times we went for a walk we had her on leash, but as she grew to trust me we did without the leash.

Java Macaques are also known as the “crab eating macaques.”  It was quite the experience teaching her how to hunt for crabs, break open oysters, swim and dive for oysters and crabs.  She grew strong and she turned out to be a wonderful animal that really made a huge impact on my life.  Especially one evening in particular.
Makine, (pronounced Malkai) and I were doing our typical evening run on the beach.  We usually ran down the beach and back, about a mile, then we came back and swam in the ocean or chased crabs.  It would depend on the weather and what she felt like doing.  This day we were really into chasing crabs.  I needed a break and sat on a pontoon that was beached.  She came over to show me the crab she just caught and then starting making a warning call.  She had many vocalizations I was able to recognize and understand exactly what it meant.  This call was one of sheer fright.  She was shrieking and running towards me.  I thought she wanted comfort but when I picked her up she was not impressed.  She wriggled out of my arms and began pulling on me.  She was jumping around and grabbing at my legs and hands.  When I didn’t get up (because I had no idea what she wanted) she ran back to me and began hitting at something that was behind my leg in the pontoon.  It was then I understood why she was having a melt down.  She began batting away a pit viper that was in a striking position and very unhappy with my choice of a resting place.  Her touching the snake made it focus on her long enough that I could get away and we both went running.

Without her warning, there is a very good chance that I would have been bitten.  A deserted island in Myanmar is not exactly the best place to be for an emergency of that nature. Makine is still on the island and has the entire island to play on.  She is fed and checked on by the monks who also live on the island.  I wish I could go back and visit her. It would be so interesting to know if she would remember me.  Regardless, I will never forget her for not only saving my life but also all the many things she taught me.