Residents of the ancient Thai city of Lopburi are living in fear of marauding gangs of monkeys, as thousands of primates brawl with each other, attack shops, and take over the streets in search of food during lockdown.
Lopburi province and the antics of its macaques have long lured hordes of tourists who pose with them for selfies in exchange for bananas. But as tourism dried up because of the pandemic so too did the monkeys' food supplies, prompting them to turn violent.
Local efforts to offer the monkeys some nutrition may have backfired as some say a sugary diet of fizzy drinks, cereal and sweets has fuelled the animals' sex lives, making their population grow even more.
"The more they eat, the more energy they have... so they breed more," said Pramot Ketampai, who manages the city's Prang Sam Yod temples.
Monkeys patrol the walls of the historic site, in the centre of the 800-year-old city, to protect their turf. In March, they staged a raid on another group of monkeys living around the Phra Kan shrine.
Their invasion - captured in a video that went viral on social media - resulted in a vicious street fight that stopped traffic for 10 minutes as the rival monkey gangs screeched, charged at each other and engaged in paw-to-paw combat.
"They're so used to having tourists feed them and the city provides no space for them to fend for themselves," Supakarn Kaewchot, a government veterinarian said.
"With the tourists gone, they have been more aggressive, fighting humans for food to survive," she said. "They are invading buildings and forcing locals to flee their homes."
An abandoned cinema has reportedly become the primates' headquarters, with the projection room turned into a cemetery where the monkeys lay their dead to rest. A nearby shop owner said that he displayed stuffed tiger and crocodile toys in an attempt to scare off the creatures and prevent them from snatching spray-paint cans.
"We live in a cage, but the monkeys live outside," said one resident, Kuljira Taechawattanawanna. "Their excrement is everywhere, the smell is unbearable especially when it rains."
For years, city residents have had a love-hate relationship with their monkey neighbours, who attract tourist dollars but regularly create mayhem, breaking windows, stealing groceries and damaging cars.
But the worsening fights, along with reports of locals barricading themselves in their homes, and no-go zones for humans, have prompted Thai authorities to intervene, restarting a sterilisation programme after a three-year pause.
Wildlife department officers have placed large cages around the city, filling them with fruit to lure the animals inside and then take them to a clinic where they are anaesthetised, sterilised and left with a tattoo to mark their neutering.
They aim to treat hundreds out of the 6,000-strong macaque population within the next few weeks.
The Telegraph, London