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What's so great about macaques?

Most of these pages focus on problems that occur when macaques and humans interact, and offer ideas about how to solve them. But what about macaques in their own right?  What’s so great about macaques?

What's a macaque?

Macaca is a taxonomic genus made up of approximately 24 distinct monkey species, known collectively as macaques. Macaques have the widest geographical range of any primate genus, and can be found across Asia from the eastern part of Afghanistan up to Japan, down through Indonesia and India and most places in between. There is a single species of macaque (Macaca sylvanus, the Barbary macaque) whose natural range (Morocco and Algeria) is outside of Asia. For more information on the different species please visit Learn About Macaques

While each macaque species is adapted to its own unique environment (and some species can thrive across a range of environments), there are many similarities across species. Below, you can learn about some of the unique, interesting or just plain wonderful traits that most macaques share.

Wild Macaque_davidwjford_licensed under
Macaques love their moms 

Like so many other primates, macaque babies are totally dependent on their mothers for an extended period of time. From the moment they are born, and for months to come, they cling on to their mom’s bellies or back as mom climbs, forages, and protects her baby carefully. Even once they’ve learned to run, climb, play, and bicker, they remain emotionally dependent on their mom for years to come. These bonds can last a lifetime; while male macaques often leave the group they were born into upon maturity, females stay, and associate with their mothers as long as they both live.    


Interestingly, and not typically for macaques, Barbary macaque fathers tend to be the ones that carry and look after their infants much of the time!

Long tailed macaque_Sabrina Jabbar.jpg
Macaques are important to forests and the planet

Like the rest of us, macaques eat and poop on a regular basis. An important part of natural macaque diets is fruit, and they tend to swallow many seeds whole. Passing through a macaque’s gut can make many seeds more likely to germinate and grow into healthy plants. So when a macaque has a snack, and then moves on, he is effectively planting a tree or two


Without macaques to do our gardening for us, it is possible that entire species of tree would not survive into the future. That, in turn, would affect other animals who depend on those trees for food and shelter, and eventually, as the diverse life of these forests diminished, would affect us, too. 


The forests need macaques, and so do we!

Macaques are fantastic innovators

In 1965, a few young Japanese macaques in Nagano, learned that immersing themselves in the man-made hot spring pools of Shiga Heights could keep them warm. This tradition spread to the adults of the group, and from that point forward, macaques in the region have made a habit of soaking in the hot springs, sometimes for hours on end - and the colder it is, the more likely they are to bathe.

Photo Trey Ratcliff_ licensed CC BY-NC-S
Macaques know how to have fun...
and they can laugh! 
They can be mischieveous! 

Some of the things that make macaques exceptional are the same things that can turn people against them.  They're incredibly smart - enough to know that tourists care more about cameras than about empty camera bags - and will "pay" (in treats) to get them back!   While this can be frustrating, and sometimes dangerous, it's also pretty incredible, and it is hard not to admire them for their determination and their ability to innovate. 


Macaques are fascinating, intelligent, emotional beings. They are neigbors to many of us, and although we don't always see eye to eye with our neighbors, it is worth making the effort to coexist.'s their world, too! 

Check out more macaque-positive content on our International Macaque Week pages! 

Rhesus macaque in Nepal. B Aldrich 2017.
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