Japan: The Unlikely Reign of a Macaque Queen – Wikipedia

The Queen is lying on the high wall, buttocks to the audience. Satoshi Kimoto, a macaque expert from Oita’s Takasakiyama Nature Zoo, points across the sandy playground and across the woodland gymnasium to the ledge on the paved slope. Here is Yaki, Japan’s most famous monkey, the first female group leader in the zoo’s 70-year history, a biological sensation. She made herself comfortable between two other macaques. On the left is Yaki’s daughter, says Kimoto, and on the right is a big fan. The two carefully search his boss’s fur for dirt, while they seem relaxed as if they are being massaged.

Is this a sign of yaki strength? Grooming a privilege for a successful rebel? Satoshi Kimoto must disappoint the viewer. When it comes to grooming, all Japanese macaques are similar. “There are scenes like that with others too,” he says.

Yaki (center) with accompanying Satoshi Kimoto

(Photo: Thomas Hahn)

Yaki, the nine-year-old primate of Macaca fuscata, captures people’s imaginations with its story. In her group of 669 animals, she has upended the traditional hierarchy over the past year by driving alpha males off the top. And it did not lose the lead even in the mating season from November to March. Aren’t these obvious signs? Liberation in the animal kingdom. Rebellion against male rule. Monkey in a leadership position. Has social progress reached the wilderness?

Yaki’s behavior is so unusual that it raises elementary questions

One should not make daring comparisons between humans and animals. In the open-air zoo in Oita on the far south of Japan’s southernmost main island of Kyushu, there are no debates or discussions of gender equality about the rights of monkeys. The zoo is located across the main road that runs along Beppu Bay and connects the resorts in the area. A shaded walkway and stairs lead from the entrance to the playground, where hundreds of Japanese macaques gather each day to eat before disappearing again into the mountain forest in the evening. Indifferently, they walk in front of the spectators and do what Japanese macaques do. Eating, resting, climbing, being together – apparently nothing is fruitful.

But in fact, the behavior of the yaki is so unusual that it raises fundamental questions about the behavior of the animal. It is as if she made conscious decisions beyond her instincts to reach the position she holds today. So, in the midst of the horde of unsuspecting Japanese macaques, did Yakei develop some sort of functional awareness? Ambition? The quest for power?

For Satoshi Kimoto and others at the Takasakiyama Zoo, the story began in the spring of 2021. Until then, Yaki had been a monkey like any other: mother to a daughter since 2019, he wasn’t aggressive and in no way outspoken. But then something happened. “On March 15, Yaki quarreled with her mother, and she bit her mother and won,” says Kimoto. This changed their relationship, the yaki is now dominant. Kimoto thinks that was a pivotal moment for Yakei.

There are clear hierarchies in Japanese macaque societies. But mainly only among males, who are larger and stronger than females. They determine the order among themselves. Whoever was in the tallest group had an advantage. Females do not usually interfere. But that’s exactly what Yaki did after winning the argument with her mother. It was as if she had enough studded skeletons, because the top four of the group were not only men, but also quite old, all over 28 years old. Current research On average, Japanese macaques live no older than 25 years.

“First I fought Hajime, number four, then on June 26, I fought number one, Nancho,” says Kimoto. The grizzly gentlemen stood no chance against the graceful yaki. After Nanshu was defeated as well, Kimoto and the others watched her for a while. Yaki acts like a male showing signs of superiority. It flapped its tail, climbed trees and shook the branches. In the so-called peanut test, in which animal keepers note who gets the first special treat, everyone leaves them first. There were no more doubts. On July 30, the zoo introduced the yakei as the number one macaque group B.

“Yaki is very special,” says Yu Kigashi of Kyoto University. In winter, the biologist was able to see for himself how typical they behave. “I’ve never seen anything like this before.” And that says something, because the Japanese hunt for the macaque should have seen just about everything. “Japanese macaques are among the best-studied mammals in the world,” says Kaigaishi. No other species of monkey lives so far in the north, nor are there other species in a prosperous country like Japan, which has a high density of universities and zoos. Once Japanese macaques get used to humans, they allow themselves to watch patiently. Since its founding in 1952, the Takasakiyama Zoo alone has captured every generation of monkeys that have visited the playground, with all their family ties.

During the mating season, she wanted to have a large number of partners

So we know a lot about the complex coexistence of Japanese macaques. For example, they know their mothers and grandmothers, but not their fathers and grandfathers, because females always mate with several males during the mating season. Kaigaishi himself found that group cohesion can vary from region to region.

In his view, the behavior of the yaki shows a new quality of group dynamics. Most notable is the fact that she maintained control over the mating season even though the male could have easily overthrown her. “This means that the Japanese macaque community is not only governed by physical violence,” says Yu Kaigashi, “I suppose the yaki had the support of others. Physically she might have been weaker. But she was stronger socially.” It’s also clear to him that Yakei doesn’t just follow instincts: “Japanese macaques can make flexible decisions.”

No one knows exactly what went through the mind of the yaki when they came to power. “I’d like to ask her that,” says Satoshi Kimoto. Of course not. One could only notice how the group had changed since their battles against Nanchu and Hajime. Most of the group maintains a respectable distance from the Yakei. Her facial expressions looked more stern than those of others. Sometimes it seems that she looks at others with disdain. Kimoto says, Nancho has no problem with her. “He can stay close to them when they eat. But Hajime is afraid of her.” And during the mating season, the yaki wanted to have a large number of mates.

Japanese TV occasionally reported her love triangle with the macaques mentioning Luffy and Goro. She had some kind of partnership with Goro, Luffy wooed her in vain. Nobody knows what happened in the depths of the forest. What is clear is that the yaki tried to win over at least five males and mated with one anyway. With Guru said, number five in the rankings.

This did not harm their sovereignty. “Just winning first place was enough to earn her respect,” says Satoshi Kimoto. It may also have achieved what many women in the human world have already achieved: the persuasion of their leadership qualities.

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