Snow Monkey Business

Japanese Snow Monkey (Macaca fuscata) in thermal pool

When I traveled to Japan on a wildlife photography trip, one of the highlights was photographing the Japanese snow monkeys.

These monkeys (which are actually macaques – Macaca fuscata) are a species that is indigenous to Japan. On Japan’s big island (Honshu), they live in two main areas, one of which is a mountainous region in the center of the island, by the town of Nagano, at an elevation of about 850 mt/2,750 ft.

There, whoever is interested in observing or photographing the snow monkeys needs to hike to Jigokudani Yaenkoen National Park (which supposedly means “Hell’s Valley”) and then to the thermal pool, which is one of the monkeys’ favorite places to congregate in winter. This is because this region of Japan gets very cold in the winter, with temperatures that drop to -15 C/5 F, and therefore the monkeys seek comfort from the warm waters coming from natural hot springs that are heated by the underground activity of the Shiga Kogen volcano.

Actually, the whole use of the thermal pool by the snow monkeys started relatively recently and marked a discovery in the monkeys’ adaptive skills. While beforehand no snow monkey had been observed in the thermal pool, in the Sixties one monkey ventured into the hot spring waters to collect seeds that had been thrown in by the Park’s keepers. The monkey evidently enjoyed not only the free meal, but also the warm water and this led to imitation by the other monkeys in its troop and eventually by virtually the entire population of that area, that took on the habit.

If you happen to travel to Japan, I wholeheartedly recommend you pay a visit to the snow monkeys, as they are very interesting (and often times downright funny) to observe, with their human-like behavior. Plus, they make for great photo subjects! The one captured in this image reminded me of Planet of the apes, as if it were crawling out of the pool thinking “I’m coming to get you!”

If you want to learn more about the Japanese snow monkeys, I suggest you start by checking this Web site out.

If you would like to see more images of mine, feel free to browse my Galleries.

As per my copyright notice, please respect my work and do not download, reproduce or use the image above without first seeking my consent. Thank you :-)

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15 thoughts on “Snow Monkey Business

    1. Stefano Post author

      I love traveling, Oliver, whenever I’ve got a chance! 🙂
      Thank you so much for your kind comment: I just thought that adding the photography part to Flora’s Table would have been too much and would have diluted the blog’s core focus on food and wine, hence the newborn blog. I am very happy that you support my idea!
      Thanks as always, Oliver! 🙂

      Reply
  1. Maria Dernikos

    I can hardly believe you can get so close to them. The photograph is fantastic. Those poor monkeys, all that time and they didn’t realise they were missing out on a hot tub all of their own!!

    Reply
    1. Stefano Post author

      Hi Maria, yes, the snow monkeys are definitely habituated to human presence, so you can approach them up close when they are in the thermal pool. And I know, right, sometimes the truth (or something good for you) is in plain sight before you and yet you fail to realize it until someone stumbles upon it! 🙂
      Many thanks for taking the time to comment and for your kind words 🙂

      Reply
    1. Stefano Post author

      Thank you, Zanzana: they are really quite interesting and their behavior is very similar to that of humans. They are fun to watch 🙂 I will post a few more images of them on future posts.

      Reply
  2. Nature on the Edge

    Aren’t they fascinating! Have just visited (July) and was intrigued by their behaviour. I primarily wanted to see how they compare to our baboons in the Cape Peninsula, and their habituation to humans. Looks like they are satisfied by a natural diet, supplemented by the grains provided by the park wardens. Appears that the ‘feeding station’ concept works here. Enjoyed looking at your pix, recognised some of the characters 🙂

    Reply
      1. Nature on the Edge

        BTW, thanks for the comment on Stefano’s pix…. intriguing to see how they handle the temperature difference from winter to summer. Far less fur in summer – such elegant creatures. Many similarities in behaviour to the baboons.

    1. Stefano Post author

      Yes, they truly are – funny too! 😉 Glad you got to go and experience the whole thing first hand. And you are right: I also got the impression that the grains provided by the park wardens would not significantly affect their feeding habits, which is a good thing. Thank you for your kind comment! 🙂

      Reply
  3. Pingback: E=mc2 – Snow Monkey Portrait | Clicks & Corks

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