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Trevor's Tales

Monkey Business

Contributed by Trevor Ranges

At The Monkey Training College in Kanchanadit, Surat Thani, founded by Krue Somporn, monkeys learn to harvest coconuts. Visitors can watch a presentation for a small fee or observe the real monkey training for free.

A young boy on a coconut farm in Kanchanadit, Surat Thani cringed as he saw a farmer beat a monkey that failed to properly retreive a coconut. He understood the usefulness of having monkeys pick the important crop; the monkeys were more adept at the task, gathering a much greater number of coconuts per day than the most skilled man could. However, he was shocked by the inhumane treatment the animals were given.

Following the advice of a Buddhist monk, he set out to develop a training method that was more just. So, in 1957, at the age of 17, Somporn Saekow began developing techniques designed to teach his fellow primates through love and compassion. Over the next fourty five years, Krue (Teacher) Somporn founded a school for monkeys and he and his favorite and most famous monkey Khai Nui captured the hearts of the Thai people.

From 1957 until his death in 2002, Krue Somporn personally trained local monkeys in the art of coconut harvesting. Khai Nui, who appeared in several television commercials, became even more popular than his owner and was bestowed the honor of carrying the Surat Thani flag at the Thai National Games in 1993. Following the death of Krui Somporn, his family has continued the program that was his life’s passion.

Local coconut farmers bring their monkeys (pig tailed macaque to be exact) to Krue Somporn’s school where they are enrolled in 3 to 5 months of intensive instruction. The monkeys are given names and the trainers develop a close bond with the monkeys through the use of kind words and positive emotion, which they believe the primates have an ability to sense and understand. The trainers even refer to themselves as the monkey’s fathers, and call their trainees “luuk”, their children.

Instruction begins with simple tasks such as spinning a coconut on its stem and learning to bite through it to release the fruit. Gradually, the monkeys learn to distinguish ripe from unripe fruit, how to retrieve fallen coconuts, and how to load coconuts onto a truck. While there are no exams and the school does not guarantee how many coconuts a day a monkey will ultimately be able to pick, the monkeys are trained patiently until they develop their skills. A competent monkey can pick up to 1000 coconuts a day, while a person can gather little more than 100 at best.

Classes at Monkey Training College run from 7 am to 5 pm seven days a week Demonstrations for visitors are given upon request. During these shows, monkeys perform their coconut picking techniques and show off their special talents, such as performing summersaults. There is no fixed show time; once you arrive you can tell the trainers that you want to see a demonstration and they will arrange one for you right away. The demonstration fee depends on the size of your group. If you are alone the fee is 300B. Visitors can watch the real monkey training in the classroom/coconut field throughout the day for free. The school is located at 24 Moo 4, Tambon Thungkong, Kanchanadit, Surat Thani and can be contacted at 077/227351.

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