Monkeys in Bali Know How Much We Love Our Smartphones

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Monkeys at Uluwatu Temple in Bali have been terrorizing tourists for years, stealing everything from bags and bottles to sunglasses and smartphones.

While it is already impressive that the cunning creatures have developed trading skills to ensure that they receive food from the victims in exchange for the stolen items, new research shows that the monkeys there even learned what things are most important to us , and causing them to hold onto the more important items until a fair amount of food is offered.

No, the researchers aren’t suggesting the Bali macaques have access to a comprehensive price list of the latest flagship smartphones, nor are they saying the animals have a deep understanding of people’s emotional attachment to their phones. But what the monkeys seem to have noticed is how frantic we get when they grab our phone, which leads them to develop some pretty impressive haggling skills that will undoubtedly ensure a full belly by the end of the day.

Ongoing research, highlighted in a Guardian report, is led by Dr. Jean-Baptiste Leca, a psychology expert at the University of Lethbridge in Canada.

Leca said the fast-moving macaques are highly skilled at grabbing smartphones and other items from tourists who foolishly ignore the temple’s advice and tell them to secure their devices and other valuables while they explore the grounds.

To gain a better understanding of the interaction between temple monkeys and tourists, the research team examined video footage recorded over a period of more than six months. It quickly became clear that if the monkeys found an item valuable – like a smartphone – they would ask for a greater amount of food to return it safely. A temple worker is often involved in “negotiations” between the monkeys and their victims. The researchers’ footage recorded a particularly intense session that lasted 17 minutes before a solution was found and an amicable exchange of goods could take place.

The researchers found that this amazing monkey business is actually a learned behavior in which the animals learn the mischievous technique of robbery and barter in their first four years of life.

Given the extraordinary skills of these slippery temple dwellers, perhaps the only surprise is that they don’t take selfies with their stolen smartphones – as they did a few years ago – before handing them back. That would certainly be worth an extra bunch of bananas at every negotiation.

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