5 June 2012 by Julienne du Toit

Hotel monkey

Any monkey or baboon that has ever supped from that magical source of nourishment called human food will usually hunt for another hit of it. And if there’s a regular breakfast buffet ... well!

Those beady little eyes miss nothing. Photo Chris Marais

You’re sitting on the patio eating breakfast and suddenly there’s that feeling you’re being watched. Ah yes. Look up and you’ll likely see 2 inquisitive eyes scanning you and what’s on your plate.

Vervet monkeys learn very quickly that hotels and restaurants out in the wild are a ready source of food – more so if guests are silly enough to toss food to them.

At a hotel in the Southern Cape recently, we found the monkeys will swoop down on the fruit buffet if they can. If they can’t, they sneak up and make off with sachets of sugar and the hotel cat’s kibbles.

If they look slightly manic afterwards, you’ll know they hit a mother lode of instant-coffee granules.

Still, that’s pretty mild compared to the shenanigans we encountered at a hotel outside Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park. There the monkeys watch quietly until the guests depart on the afternoon game drive. Then, in little gangs, they go from window to window, testing to see if any have been left open. If any have, mayhem ensues.

The monkeys crowd into the room, tossing anything that resembles food down their gullets. If they look slightly manic afterwards, you’ll know they hit a mother lode of instant-coffee granules.

In the morning, there’s another hazard. At the breakfast buffet, you are given 2 plates, 1 for the food and 1 to put over your food. If you fail to deploy the 2nd, expect to hear a brief but bewildering whoosh of feathers as a yellow-billed kite swoops down on your bacon or pork sausage.

We also had an unexpected animal encounter in Australia, at the superb Cradle Mountain in Tasmania. As we emerged from our wooden cabin on the 1st night of our visit, we were confronted with some furry beasts on the balustrade, rocking back and forth in preparation for a wild leap inside. Slamming the door shut again and leaning against it, we wondered how to proceed.

Eventually, loudly shooing them off, we made our escape, fortunately locking everything up securely. The restaurant manager regaled us that night with stories of possums (the same furry beasts we’d seen) invading unlocked cabins on the hunt for food: 'In fact, I peeked in the window once and saw a whole group of them sitting in a semi-circle in front of the TV, passing around a tin of Milo. It looked pretty cosy, I can tell you. I nearly joined them ...'

Category: Wildlife


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