SINGAPORE - The little boy was just about to go down the playground slide when a monkey suddenly jumped down from the trees.
Frightened, the three-year-old started to cry.
His mother heard him and shouted for him to run away.
But before he could do anything, the monkey attacked him, scratching his back till he bled.
Even though his shirt was not torn from the scratches, blood from the wounds seeped through, said the boy's mother, who only wanted to be known as Mrs Zhang. "When I saw my son's red and swollen back, my heart ached," said the 27-year-old housewife.
The incident happened last Wednesday at a playground in Changi Village.
Mrs Zhang had fetched her son and two-year-old daughter from their childcare centre and stopped by the playground near their home. "I let them play at the playground when there's still time and it's not too sunny," she said.
There was no one else there that evening and it looked like it was about to rain.
Her son was happily climbing up and down at the playground while Mrs Zhang and her daughter sat on a bench nearby.
That was when the monkey attacked the boy. But the nightmare did not end there.
While she was busy comforting her bawling son, the monkey had jumped down from the slide and was approaching its second target: her daughter, who was sitting alone on the bench.
"I shouted at the monkey when it grabbed the cuffs of my daughter's pants. It only ran away when I tried to scare it by kicking off my slippers," Mrs Zhang said. She then took her son to a doctor, who prescribed some anti-inflammation medicine.
Mrs Zhang's husband, safety coordinator Jason Zhang, said he reported the attack to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) immediately after he found out about it.
"Two days later, the AVA called me and said the monkey has been around for a month or so, but they have not managed to catch it," said the 35-year-old. Notices have been put up at lift landings to alert residents, but Mr Zhang feels that "more could be done to prevent this incident from happening to others".
"This area is popular among families. People like taking their children to the seaside. You won't know when these monkeys will appear and attack you," he said.
Such encounters are not new in Singapore. The AVA said that in the first three months of this year, there were 257 complaints of "monkey nuisance".
There were 920 complaints last year, up from 730 in 2011.
The AVA works with several agencies, including NParks, to solve the issue through trapping operations, development of monkey-proof garbage bins and distribution of advisories.
Last year, 130 monkeys were trapped and sent to the AVA for relocation. Those that could not be relocated were euthanised.
Relocation, however, is very difficult at this point, said Animal Concerns Research & Education Society Wildlife Rescue Centre director Anbarasi Boopal, 30.
She said this is because monkeys moved from one troop may not be accepted by another. She added that monkeys usually get aggressive because they feel threatened, or because they see food.
Five days after the incident, Mrs Zhang still wonders what could have provoked the monkey to scratch her son.
"We didn't feed the monkey and we did not have food with us," she said.
The boy's back is still bruised, and he wakes up from nightmares of the attack.
But more than blaming anyone for the injuries, the housewife hopes that the monkey will eventually be captured and put back into "the right place".
She said: "It could have been hungry and had come out in the evening to look for food. Maybe the zoo will be a better place for it.
"The monkey is endangering the safety of the residents, something has to be done."
4 tips to avoid monkey attacks
Animal Concerns Research & Education Society Wildlife Rescue Centre director Anbarasi Boopal said monkeys usually attack when they feel threatened or because of food.
To avoid unpleasant encounters, she gave the following tips on what to do when a monkey is in sight:
1 Do not try to make swift movements - back away slowly. This will help the monkey realise you are not a threat.
2 Do not imitate the monkey when it raises its eyebrows or bares its teeth. Mirroring these actions is a sign of aggression to the monkey.
3 Do not cross the path of a troop with babies when you are in their habitat, as the adult monkeys tend to be more defensive.
4 Do not feed the monkeys - they have enough food around the forest.
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