SNOW MONKEYS: MONKEY LOVE, BABIES & CHILDCARE
Affectionately known as “snow monkeys”, Nagano’s most famous furry residents are in fact Japanese macaques, often referred to as “nihonzaru”. Macaques are highly intelligent and social primates, forming strong bonds through their lives. Females in particular are very family-oriented, spending a significant amount of time with their mothers, sisters, and aunties.
Social bonds are established and strengthened (in part) through the endless grooming that the monkeys engage in. When you visit the park you will quickly notice that grooming is a time-consuming part of each monkeys’ day, something which you need to engage in if you want to succeed. Family members will groom each other and come mating season, males and females who interested in each other will do the same – an important step in selecting a mate.
Reaching sexual maturity from 5 to 6 years of age (males) and 4 to 5 years of age (female), the macaque mating season comes around each autumn through October and November and into December, just before the first snow of winter.
During mate season, males will stand straighter than usual and flex their monkey muscles, intentionally pumping them up to seem more masculine and tough. Females signal to the males they are interested, inviting them to mount. Through mating season, the monkeys will mate with multiple partners, with males higher in the hierarchy being more popular and desirable for potential female mates. Just like us humans, some males aren’t in demand and go ignored, or even actively avoided, by females.
Pregnancy and Babies
Females are pregnant through the cold and snow of winter. Recent research suggests that the females wanting to become pregnant and those which already, spend the longest time in the hot spring as a form of stress release which aids pregnancy.
Spring – late April to late June – is the birthing season for the snow monkeys. Pregnancy lasts an average of 173 days with females giving birth to one baby every other year. The newborns are tiny – measuring a mere 15 to 20 cms – and cling to their mothers, who are understandably very protective of their new bubs.
Suckling milk quickly strengthens the babies and before long – literally within 3 to 4 weeks – the little ones are taking their first clumsy steps around the park. These first steps are understandably awkward, with the babies regularly stumbling over rocks and falling-out of small shrubs as they attempt to climb. Within 2 to 3 months the little ones are fully mobile and are drawn to each other, forming adorable baby gangs.
While they will still suckle from their mothers it is at this time that the babies will start to become interest in food and begin foraging for themselves – at first mimicking the older monkeys, regularly gnawing on less than edible items.
After the fourth month the baby snow monkeys will be growing bigger and bigger and become too heavy to cling to their mothers underside. At this point the little ones start to ride on their mother’s back, staying affectionately close to their mums for a long time to come.
If you want to see each year’s babies at their most adorable, spring and summer – from late April until September – are the best times to visit the Snow Monkey Park as the bubs are born, emerge in the park, and quickly gain their confidence to tackle their new world with clumsy enthusiasm and endless curiosity.