These Monkeys Were Once Revered. Now They Are Taking Over.

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LOPBURI, Thailand — The customers waiting outside a bank in Lopburi, Thailand, left their jewelry at home and kept other treasures out of sight. But danger lurked anyway.

In broad daylight, they watched a thief steal an iced tea and a vandal brazenly attack a motorcycle seat. One woman quit her place in the line, when a stalker crept up and threatened to bite her.

With a sigh, a police officer brandished a slingshot, and the monkeys scattered. Less than a minute later, they were back.

Lopburi, a onetime capital of a Siamese kingdom and a repository of ancient architecture, is a city under siege. Crab-eating macaques, a Southeast Asian species with piercing eyes and curious natures, have spilled out of the temples where they were once revered and taken over the heart of the old town.

Their growing population, at least 8,400 in the area with most concentrated in a few city blocks, has decimated parts of the local economy. With territorial troupes of macaques roaming the neighborhood, dozens of businesses — including a music school, gold shop, barber, cellphone store and movie theater — have been forced to close in recent years.

The coronavirus pandemic has added to the chaos. The frolicking monkeys drew droves of tourists as well as Buddhist faithful, who believe feeding the animals is a meritorious deed. Their favorite offerings included coconut yogurt, strawberry soda and brightly colored snack packs. Now the macaques don’t understand where that source of sustenance has gone. And they are hungry.

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