Monkey leads the way in females' social advancement in Japan

Monkey leads the way in females' social advancement in Japan

OITA, Japan - A female monkey at Takasakiyama Natural Zoological Garden in Oita is attracting attention as she makes her mark in the largest group at the zoo.

The zoo is known for its large population of monkeys.

"How did she learn how to get along with the group?" asked visitors and zoo staffers after the 15-year-old Mirusa got close to the males in the higher ranks of her group, earning their trust.

Now, she behaves more powerfully than some males, with the backing of other males. Mirusa is in her late late 40s in terms of human age.

After the disappearance of the group's leader, Bentsu, in January of this year, Mirusa continually displayed subservience to monkeys in the group's higher ranks such as Zorome, 28, and Omugi, 13, by grooming them, and gained their trust.

Bentsu, who made a comeback as the boss of the group of about 700 monkeys after he went missing last year, was declared dead in January after going missing again.

Zorome took Bentsu's place, and Omugi is currently No. 2 in the group's hierarchy.

Mirusa's timing in getting close to the males without annoying them was "miraculously good," according to a zoo staffer.

Meanwhile, she gradually came to completely ignore lower-ranked males and started to glare at males larger than her, threatening them by shaking the branches of trees.

Intrigued by such behaviour, a zoo employee in May tried a "peanuts test," which is used to determine the ranking among male monkeys.

When a zoo employee puts a peanut between two monkeys, the one who takes the peanut first is regarded as being ranked higher. Mirusa was first to take the peanut in front of a male monkey ranked fifth.

In a similar test in August, Mirusa got into fight with another male, and after she made loud calls, Omugi rushed to her aid, scaring the male monkey away.

Her bold action surprised everybody, a zoo employee said.

Now, visitors can see such scenes as Mirusa sitting on a stump normally reserved for upper-ranked male monkeys, cramming her mouth with food, or making male monkeys groom her.

It is said female monkeys never lead a group. However, Yuko Sugamoto, a 41-year-old zoo staffer who has observed the monkeys for more than 20 years, expects Mirusa will become a star like the late Bentsu.

"I've never seen such a clever female monkey. As someone of the same sex, I think I can learn something from her cleverness and bold attitude about taking action," Sugamoto said.

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