INUYAMA, Aichi -- The annual bonfire for Yakushima macaques at the Japan Monkey Centre here was shown to the press on Dec. 21, as a troop of monkeys sat by the fire to keep warm.
Some 150 monkeys flocked to the fire at the "Monkey Valley" exhibition area as soon as the staff set some scrap wood alight. They seemed to be enjoying the warmth, turning their bellies toward the fire and placing their hands over the flames. The monkeys then munched on sweet potatoes that had been baked in the fire.
The annual bonfire for the monkeys dates back to 1959. When the monkey facility staff was burning fallen trees and other materials following devastating Typhoon Vera, known in Japan as the Isewan Typhoon, a baby monkey came close to the fire. After observing the baby monkey, adult monkeys began gathering around as well. Since monkeys naturally fear fire, their attempts to keep warm by staying close to the flames is a rare phenomenon. An animal keeper at the zoo said, "They don't seem to be afraid (of fire) at this point."
Starting on Dec. 22 through Feb. 25 next year, the bonfire for the monkeys will be open to the public from 11:30 a.m. on weekends and holidays.