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'Monkey king' pledges his life to macaques' welfare

By Hou Liqiang and Daqiong | China Daily | Updated: 2017-09-20 07:11

Hundreds of vehicles pass by Lantsal village every day, but only the sound of Tobgyal's pickup truck triggers uproar on a nearby mountain.

As the vehicle approaches, the leaves of trees on the mountain rustle and branches shake as dozens, even hundreds, of Tibetan macaque monkeys make their way down the hill to welcome the 68-year-old, nicknamed the "Monkey King" by fellow residents of Kongpo'gyada county, the Tibet autonomous region.

Tobgyal's attachment to the monkeys started when he worked as a ranger about 30 years ago. Every time he patrolled the forest, he carried food to share with the monkeys he met. He quickly began playing with them as well.

In 2000, when the local government developed a scenic spot near his village where there was a group of 50 monkeys, his famously close relationship with the animals gained him a job opportunity - as a monkey feeder.

When he took the job, the monkeys' habitat was shrinking as deforestation gathered pace in the region. With little food in the wild, the animals turned to villages for food and often damaged crops, which resulted in serious conflict between the villagers and monkeys, and many of the animals were killed, said Tobgyal, who like many Tibetans has just one name.

As a result of the local government's policies on ecological protection, Lantsal was relocated further from the mountain and about 7.5 hectares of farmland was sown with tree seedlings. The mountain then became a habitat for the monkeys.

Almost every day for the past 17 years, Tobgyal has driven his pickup to the monkeys' habitat before dawn. "When I have to go away, I ask someone else to feed them. When I return I always come to visit them, even if it is dark," he said.

The local government offers the monkeys highland barley as a staple food, but Tobgyal also often spends his own money to provide extra meals. He knows that the monkeys like apples, so he spends at least 100 yuan ($15) a month buying the fruit when it is available in the local market.

However, problems have emerged as the monkey population has risen. For three seasons of the year, the animals enjoy a harmonious relationship. However, during winter, when there is almost no food in the wild, the monkeys come to Tobgyal for food and often fight each other to gain extra provisions.

Tobgyal has found a way to deal with the situation. Every time he comes to provide food, he leads some of the monkeys away to prevent members of different families from crowding together. He also often takes injured monkeys to his home to be treated.

He has named three monkeys from different families. One of them is named "fatty" because of its plump body shape. When Tobgyal calls out one of the names, the members of the named monkey's family gather around him.

The number of monkeys has risen to about 2,800 thanks to the care provided by Tobgyal. He said he has never considered retiring, and he will continue to help the monkeys for as long as he lives.

"I have told my son to continue my work after I pass away," he said, "I hope people can live in harmony with nature."

'Monkey king' pledges his life to macaques' welfare
Tobgyal feeds monkeys on the mountain. HOU LIQIANG/CHINA DAILY


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