China Commands an Army of Trained Monkeys

There has been a long tradition of employing animals in military operations. The latest example might be China's troop of macaque soldiers.

According to a report in the Washington Post, the People's Liberation Army revealed that they've trained a small troop of macaques at one of their air bases, somewhere in northern China. From the photos, I can't quite tell which macaque species they appear to be. The genus Macaca is one of the most widespread primate genera (second only to our own, Homo) with twenty-two recognized species.

The monkey warriers aren't fighting in battle. Instead, they're guarding the air base from birds, who too often get themselves caught up in aircraft engines.

The military has tried scarecrows, bird netting, firecrackers and even live ammunition to decimate their nests… to no avail. Soldiers — showing valor in the face of such risks as slipping and falling — had climbed up trees in the past to destroy the nests, said a captain quoted on a news Web site run by China's military, only to see those strategic spots retaken by birds the next day.

Enter the monkeys.

The macaques are trained to respond to precise whistle commands from their handlers, according to the Chinese military, leaping into action, clambering up trees to destroy nests and scare away birds, according to an account on China's Air Force News Web site on Sunday. The particular air force base employing the monkeys was left unidentified, described simply as being in the Beijing military zone. Base commanders in the account said the monkeys have destroyed more than 180 nests, at a pace of six to eight nests per monkey per day.

It all might seem a bit cartoonish, like another of Wile E. Coyote's attempts to catch that elusive roadrunner, played out within a Beijing-area military facility.

But as we've previously discussed, military elephants built the ancient world and Russia now commands Ukraine's dolphin army. The US also has an active dolphin unit and a group of dogs currently at work in Afghanistan.

China's monkey program is but another example in the long, rich history of humans putting animals to work in our armed forces.

[Washington Post]