A few years ago I was working on a project in Thailand. When the car I was riding in pulled up to an intersection, I looked over and saw this truck full of coconuts. Then, I suddenly noticed (not only) two men sitting atop the pile, but two monkeys clinging to the side of the vehicle. I grabbed for my camera and managed to capture a quick shot. I never saw the driver, so I couldn’t tell you which one was behind the wheel. Curious by this view, I inquired further and was informed Thai farmers ‘employ’ pigtailed macaque monkeys, trained for collecting and loading coconuts!!
A popular training school is The Monkey Training College in Surat Thani in Southern Thailand. It was founded in 1957. Apparently, there are three levels of training. In the first term, the monkeys learn how to select ripe coconuts, spin them free from the tree, and how to untangle themselves if their ropes get caught in the branches. In the secondary school term, they learn how to collect the fallen coconuts and put them into sacks or even load them onto trucks. Finally, there is “high school” and I’m not sure what they learn in this third tier - they either start selling the coconuts, drive the trucks, or “high” suggests the altitude they climb?
The training methods are supposedly based on kindness, positivity, and love for the monkeys. Even so, I’m always skeptical and rarely comfortable with the idea of trained animals working for humans, even when conditions are described as humane. It’s still a form of one’s will imposing upon another’s.
From a historical perspective of monkeys collecting coconuts for humans, here’s an article from 1923.
Whether they’re working, or in the wild, they are incredibly clever, agile, and captivating to watch.