Attack of the Coconuts
In June 2002, a man in a ground-floor flat was awakened by scratching sounds. To his surprise, a chimpanzee was leaning in through his bedroom window, stealing his cell phone from the bedside table. The gentleman in question had left his window open to allow his domestic felines easy exit to the outdoors, never considering that he would be burgled through the same open window. And perhaps catching a burglar ape would be similar to catching smaller mischievous monkeys.
In times gone by, legend states that monkeys would routinely destroy crops in the fields of India. The farmers didn’t believe in killing the monkeys, so they would catch them, take them into the jungle and set them free. But it’s hard to catch small, agile, aggressive primates. Initially, the farmers set traps, but realized that the monkeys could lose fingers, toes or sometimes a complete limb. The poor creature would cry in pain and then be handicapped for the rest of its life.
In an effort to capture a monkey without hurting it, one farmer cut a small hole in a coconut, just big enough for the monkey’s paw to slide in. The coconut was then stuffed with a banana, nuts or some other monkey treat and tied to a tree. When the monkey smelled the goodies in the coconut, he would insert his hand, grab the tasty item, but because his fist was clenched around the treasure he could not remove his hand from the coconut. Essentially, the monkey became its own hostage and could be humanely captured and relocated.
There are more than 1300 kinds of coconut palm, and they can be separated into two main genetic origins: the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean. The coconut (cocos nucifera) is often regarded as the jewel of the tropics and a coconut palm can survive for up to 100 years or more without germinating. It is undoubtedly the most economically important palm (often called the tree of life) and is also one of the ten most important tree crops. The word "coconut" did not appear until after the arrival of Portuguese explorers in the 15th century. When these travelers found this fruit growing on Indian Ocean islands, they described the coconut shell as a coco, or "grinning face" of a monkey because of the 3 dark holes at its base which look like a pop-eyed merry face. From then on, it was referred to as the "coconut."
When eaten, coconuts have many well-documented health benefits but they can also be used for:
- Emergency intravenous fluid
- Steam-activated coconut char, used in gas mask production
- Coconut armor
- Building materials
- Medium for sculptures
- Integral part of tropical folk dances and cultural performances
- Planet-friendly fuel for machinery
- A potent drink called lambanog (coconut vodka)
But back to monkeys and coconuts. Palm trees are dangerous for humans to climb, and it can be awkward trying to wrench a heavy coconut free while holding on for dear life. So, coconut farmers have enlisted some simian specialists to retrieve this precious commodity. In tropical countries like Sumatra, farmers train monkeys to harvest coconuts. Most farmers control the little acrobats with a long leash, but some monkeys are so well-trained they respond to their owner’s voice commands. And, collecting these coconuts keeps them from potentially creating havoc should they fall randomly from the tree.
There is a popular, yet potentially incorrect, Internet “fact” that falling coconuts kill 150 people worldwide each year. This is reportedly more deaths than those caused by shark attacks, vending machines or champagne corks. In truth, most individuals whose concussion (ICD-10-CM subcategory S06.0-) or death resulted from falling coconuts (W20.8XXA) chose to take a siesta under the palm tree (Y92.832, Place of service beach). Remember, the average coconut weighs in at over 4 pounds and sits atop a palm tree that can reach 98 feet in height. This is the equivalent of dropping a coconut off a ten-story building.
So, for those readers who think the ideal vacation is a deserted island with palm trees swaying in a tropical breeze, don’t waste time worrying about snakes in the bed, shark bites, large aggressive insects or close encounters with a tiger. Instead, hope you awaken to hear the “thud” as the coconut hits the ground and not your skull!