Marauding Gangs of Monkeys Invade Rio De Janeiro

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Capuchin monkeys in a tree looking intensely at something off camera.

Kryssia Campos / Getty Images

In Rio de Janeiro, bold bands of marauding monkeys are turning to a life of looting and mischief. By the dozens, young capuchin monkeys have been descending the nearby hills to sneak into homes and steal fruit and other food from unsuspecting residents -- wreaking havoc in the process. "They come in, make a mess, break and throw everything onto the floor," says one distraught resident of Rio's primate-sacked South Zone. But local experts say that kind-hearted humans may be to blame for unleashing this proverbial barrel of monkeys.Sure, in still-photos and wildlife documentaries, capachin monkey are undeniably adorable and seem rather harmless,but the recent slew of break-ins and thefts have familiarized locals with their more cunning qualities. In fact, an investigation from Jornal Floripa recorded some surprisingly well-orchestrated incidents of looting. By mimicking a birdcall, one monkey alerts countless others hidden that the latest home invasion will soon be underway.

Boldy, they lie in wait on rooftops, climb the gutters of buildings, and even risk jumps to invade homes. One monkey is seen toting stolen milk.
But most impressive is the action about to happen. In a seemingly quiet building, suddenly, the first member of the gang approaches. The monkey uses the power lines to reach the tree in front of a building. When he reaches the top, he is already accompanied by another member.
The monkey perceives the presence of the news crew and cast threatening looks. One gets to the apartment window. The pair examined the site and plan the attack. One last sneaky look and the sequence of invasions begin.

A primatologist aiding in the investigation, Christiane Rangel, tells reporters that the monkey-led crimesprees is the work of juvenille capuchins who, like human youths, tend to be more fearless than their adult counterparts. She says that as more people move in, more monkeys will as well.

Rio's Southern Zone borders Tijuca Park, the world's largest urban forest, so throughout the year the presence of a monkey or two isn't uncommon. Usually, the small primates have been happy getting handouts, like fruits and bread, from well-meaning residents -- but experts say this may have clued the monkeys in to the wealth of treats that lies beyond the forest. That, coupled with a seasonal food scarcity, seems to have driven the capuchins into a using their stealth and dexterity -- not merely their charity inspiring cuteness -- to fill their bellies.

Meanwhile, as reporters look on, more monkey's are gathering to partake in the latest assault. One accidently drops the bag of bananas he'd theived from a nearby kitchen, so he cooly eats the one he was carrying in his mouth -- he knows there is plenty more to be found.

"It is the portrait of a city growing into the forest. The person's house was the home of the monkey before," says Rangel. Her advice to the residents is to no longer feed the monkeys. After all, they seem to be quite capable of feeding themselves.