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24 Mar 2018

Posh Lagos Estate Where Monkeys Enter Houses And Terrorise Residents

It looks serene: sitting quietly at the boundary of Lagos and Ogun states, tucked in the middle of the chaos offered by Lagos, the busy Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and unplanned Ogun communities. Even the large signboard that welcomes people to the estate boldly says ‘Welcome to Riverview Estate, Isheri North …For purposeful habitation’. And like it says, the quiet in the estate is calming and refreshing.
When Mr. Sola Olubunmi moved to LSDPC Riverview Estate, now famously known as Tinubu Estate, two years ago, he loved it immediately. He recalled being taken in by the sights and sounds as he was rewarded with the sound birds piercing the quiet of the early morning.

And with monkeys being a familiar sight in the estate, Olubunmi felt the breathtaking beauty of nature first-hand. But within months of arriving in the neighbourhood, his love for the monkeys turned sour.

“When I first came here, I really loved it. It was so quiet and I loved to just look at the monkeys. They would come out from the bush behind my place and I would feed them.

“I felt staying close to them was added bonus. The people I met here used to tell me at the time that I would soon hate them, but I said that would never happen. Some even volunteered to get me catapult to use to dissuade them from coming to my place, but I said no. And truly, the story is different today.

 “Now, I cannot stand them. One night, I came home and found my kitchen scattered and some food items gone. The monkeys gained access to my kitchen after tearing the window net. They ate my bread and other food items and messed up the kitchen. Then, I learnt my lesson. My love for them has turned to animosity and I can no longer stand them. It is now about – how can I get rid of them?” Olubunmi said.

The monkeys, including baboons and the residents of the estate are neighbours who have coexisted for over two decades. But now, the relationship is strained as the humans have grown tired of the primates’ propensity to damage things and steal their food.

Riverview Estate is known for its monkeys, which the residents call by different names- ‘Thieves of Riverview’, ‘Sneaky thieves’, ‘Alibabas’ and so on. It was learnt that the monkeys got to be living close to the estate because they were cut off by the expansion of human development into their natural habitat, leading to its depletion.
Isheri Estates Community is a large community comprising estates and others off the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. Some gated estates of million-naira mansions in the community include Riverview, Harmony and Isheri GRA.

According to residents, the sections of the community inhabited by the monkeys are small bushy areas in Isheri North, behind Riverview Estate and by its entrance. Behind the estate is a land area allocated to some government officials in Lagos, but which is largely undeveloped. This is part of the little area that the monkeys still call home and even that will be taken away from them once development expands further.

 “The monkeys here failed to migrate before civilisation caught up with them. At the back of the Isheri North, there is a land area that didn’t develop quite as fast as the others. Everyone allocated land there developed theirs except for some top government functionaries, who failed to develop theirs. So that part left undeveloped is the part inhabited by the monkeys. That was how the monkeys were cut off in that part that was still bushy, so they stayed back,” Olubunmi said.

In the community, stories abound about the first interactions humans had with the monkeys at the outset of the urban encroachment of the primates’ habitat before the modern estates in the area were established. Some of the stories that have been told feature unconfirmed but interesting human encounters with gorillas.

One of such stories as shared by one of the residents, who identified himself as Mr. Olamide and had lived in the community for 10 years, described how a group of surveyors stumbled across a troop of gorillas in the 1990s while investigating the land.

“We heard that there was a set of surveyors that came here to work on the site in the 1990s and that the head of the group was very tough. This place was still a forest at the time. While the group was cutting through the forest, each time they saw snakes and some other wild animals along the way, the boss would tell them to proceed. The team was scared but he pushed them to go ahead. He sounded like he wasn’t scared of anything.

“Then they stumbled across a troop of gorillas, who locked eyes with them and seemed to be sizing them up. We understand that the surveyors thought that their boss would give them the courage to still go ahead, but he didn’t do that. He was the one who first took to his heels. We heard that he was so far ahead of his team that they didn’t catch up with him until they got back to the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway,” he said.

Another famous story in the estate is about how a man, who used to catch monkeys in the area, was beaten black and blue by a gorilla.

“When I came here, I heard that there was a man that knew how to catch monkeys. I understand that he had a farm around here at the time and used to catch them to sell and to keep. Then there was a day the man realised that some monkeys were eating things on his farm, so he bought plenty palm wine and left it there.

“Later, he saw the monkeys drinking the palm wine and he was so happy that he had caught them because he knew that soon after, they would sleep off. And according to the story, soon after, they all slept off. So he started putting them in a cage. Then he saw something that looked like a man nudging the monkeys to wake up. But the monkeys were fast asleep.

“Then this thing, which the man later realised was a gorilla, grabbed a long sugarcane, cut it into two and started beating him. It was said that the man ran into the village here at the time with what remained of the sugarcane sticking out from his head,” another resident, Michael Aboh, said.

Although, there was no proof that the stories are true, the current residents identified the monkeys’ favourite foods as bread, pawpaw, palm wine, banana and plantain, so there is no love lost between the two – humans and monkeys – with their diets clashing.

The monkeys are fond of peeping into people’s kitchens through the window and when they see food items that catch their fancy, they tear the net and squeeze through the burglarproof to steal it.

“There are rules for people who live here and the major one is to keep anything that the monkeys might be interested in like bread, biscuits, plantains and soups away from your kitchen. When you are not there, don’t leave anything they like lying around in your kitchen or anywhere they can catch a glimpse of it.

“Bread is their favourite food. They have lived among humans for so long that they like to have some of our foods in their diet. They like pawpaw and palm wine too. When they see what they like through the window, they will do anything to get it. If you leave bread on your kitchen cabinet, they will tear the net to get it. Sometimes, I put my things, including pots of soup, in the passage. Some of my friends ask why I put them in the passage; they don’t understand,” Olubunmi said.

Olubunmi recalled how his neighbour returned from a trip one day to find food items and monkey faeces strewn across the floor.

“After eating his soup and everything they could find to eat, they defecated in his kitchen. After that experience, his love for them disappeared. He was the one who used to encourage me to like them but after the incident, he started blaming me for encouraging them to come to the house. So he suggested that we lure them.

“Since they like palm wine, we thought we should even lure them with something more attractive than palm wine, so we bought two expensive bottles of whiskey and poured some on bread. But when the monkeys came, they took the bread, smelled it and tore off the part with the alcohol drink and ate only the dry part.

“There was a day one came into my kitchen while I was at home. I had forgotten that I left bread on the cabinet. When I quickly rushed to the kitchen, it ran away. I was mad because the bread was still hot; I had just bought it from a bakery around here. And because it had touched it, I could not eat it again.

“So I tried to lure it with the remaining bread so that I could trap it. I would leave a piece of bread in the kitchen and then attempt to quickly rush out to shut the window so I could trap him inside but each time, I failed. I must have tried it for about 10 times, and each time, he got out from the kitchen through the window before I could get to shut it.

“Since that day, that monkey stopped getting too close to me. I have noticed also that once you decide to catch them, they start staying away from you. They used to eat from my hand but since the time I decided that I would catch them; they stopped coming to take food from my hand. They would stay at a distance and wait for me to throw it. It was just like they could read minds,” he said.

There is a pawpaw tree in Olubunmi’s compound, which he described as the one that survived after three attempts. He said the previous ones that were planted were eaten by monkeys and that the third one had survived because he practically guided it past the tender stage when it was edible for the monkeys.

Now, for Olubunmi and the other residents of his compound, the challenge is getting to reach ripe pawpaw before the monkeys.

“The pawpaw fruits that are on the tree now are being carefully monitored by residents of this house and the monkeys. As we are checking to see if the fruits are ripe, they are also doing the same. Recently, one evening, I saw one of them looking there. It looked at it, considered briefly if they were ripe and then left them after making up its mind that they were not. So we are both monitoring the fruits to see who gets them first. That is how it is here; we are competing with the monkeys,” he added.

All over the estate, there are different stories of experiences with the monkeys.

Immanuel Adebayo shared the story of how a woman who had just bought a bunch of plantain and left it in the kitchen to quickly attend to her children, returned to see monkeys running away with it.

“In just a few minutes, they had torn the net and helped themselves to the whole bunch. They took it all away.  There were some children eating biscuits outside, some monkeys came down, took the remaining biscuits from them and started sharing them among themselves. All the kids could do was to stare at them.

“There have been cases where monkeys have also stolen from little children sent to buy bread and snacks within the estate,” he said.

Adebayo, who helps his parents man their store, said he dared not leave the place for a minute for fear that the monkeys would eat the edible products being sold there.

“The monkeys have stolen bread, sausages and biscuits here in the past but we are wiser now. I never leave this place for any reason except we lock it up,” he said.

Meanwhile, the rivalry between residents of the estate and the monkeys has recorded some casualties, on the part of the latter. Some monkeys have been caught and killed by residents.

A resident, Emmanuel Kehinde, said, “Recently, the security guards at the gate caught a monkey and the older ones showed up. Initially, the guards ran away before they were able to summon courage and return to drive away the monkeys that had come to fight for their own. The monkey later died and our suspicion was that the chain put round his neck to restrain him was too tight.

“There was another one that was caught in a woman’s kitchen and killed by residents. It was hit with an iron bar. They can be pests; we are tired of them. They damage things, including air conditioners because of the way they hop on them when jumping from house to house.”

However, a conservationist and environment activist, Mr. Desmond Majekodunmi, described the killing of the monkeys and their plight as “very sad”, saying it was the humans that had invaded their habitat.

 He said, “The solution actually starts in our minds and it is not a difficult one. We have to understand that we human beings are not apart from nature; we are a part of nature. The monkeys may kill other animals but only for the purpose of eating and survival, if they are threatened. But there is no real justification for humans to kill them. We don’t have to.

“The developers of the estate, knowing that they had encroached on these monkeys’ home, could put barbed wire on the concrete fence there and once the monkeys know that there is barbed wire there, they won’t enter the estate. But because of that small amount of money they would not want to spend, they would rather kill off the monkeys. And sadly, our zoological services are not very developed and don’t have enough budget, otherwise, such could try to capture them and put them in a safe place. But ideally, the whole forest area should be protected.
“It is very unlikely that the monkeys would survive (since development will still get to where they are now); we don’t have zoos that can take them and we don’t have the right attitude that we need to protect them, and not only the monkeys, but the habitat as well. There should be small pockets of forests called urban forests that should be preserved. An example of such an urban forest is LUFASI – Lekki Urban Forest and Animal Sanctuary Initiative.

“Development is not just concrete and asphalt. Development is working in harmony with nature, knowing that we are a part of nature. It is very sad that there is very little that can be done since the whole area will still be encroached upon.”

Majekodunmi, however, promised to discuss the matter with a conservation group to see if it could help find permanent sanctuary for the monkeys.

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