They might seem a little out of place – they might even seem totally bananas – but Launceston's City Park star attractions will get you chimping around in no time.
Sure, they might be 8662km from their native Japan, but a troop of macaque monkeys seem right at home in Tasmania's fair northern city. Launceston has become almost synonymous with monkeys for tourists - that's how popular these red-faced beauties are - and the enclosure is most certainly an old favourite for local families.
But let's be honest, it is odd to exhibit monkeys in Tasmania. In a land blessed by some of the world's most gorgeous and delightful animals – Tasmanian devils, wombats, wallabies and kangaroos, just to name a few – it is undoubtedly eyebrow-raising as to why Launceston City Council has imported such exotic creatures as macaques, who are more at home bathing in Japan's thermal hot springs than bouncing about in a Tassie family park.
What is not in doubt is that these creatures are unbelievably beautiful, incredibly funny, seemingly mad-bonkers crazy, and utterly intriguing with their wise human-like faces. Humanitarians will be pleased to know the council has gone to lengths to provide an enclosure that is hygenic, safe, comfortable and enjoyable for the macaques.
You'll melt when you see their soulful faces and deep gazes.
The council has erected a plaque at the enclosure explaining: why monkeys? City Park has a long history of exhibiting animals, the plaque reads. It started off exhibiting none other than that stunning beast now relegated to the world of legend and fantasy: the thylacine (more commonly known as the Tasmanian Tiger, believed to be extinct since 1936). It has also exhibited wallabies, a brown bear, deer and birds.
Rhesus monkeys were exhibited here from the late 1800s until the 1970s, which proved to be a hugely popular attraction for locals and visitors alike. When the last one died in 1979, the council decided to continue with the monkey tradition. It upgraded the enclosure and decided to do some investigation to find the best species suited to Launceston's climate. They came up with the Japanese macaque and in 1980, 10 of these little cuties arrived.
These guys aren't gossiping - they just heard it through the ape-vine.
The macaque is an "Old World" monkey, which means they are native to the Old World countries of Africa, Europe and Asia. The Japanese macaque is considered the coldest climate primate on Earth, and are often found in very snowy climates. However, the climate they come from has temperatures ranging from -15C to 23C, meaning they are well suited to Launceston's warm summers as well as its frosty mornings.
They have strong social hierarchies – one male will be the alpha and females also can have dominance over others. The females maintain their social bonds through grooming – and it's fascinating to see the monkeys combing each other's fur, picking out bits and pieces. The species is highly intelligent, and they love to play and swim together. Somewhere between 35,000 to 50,000 Japanese macaques exist in the wild, but their numbers are thought to be diminishing.
The monkey enclosure at City Park was erected to reflect the natural conditions Japanese macaques live in, and they seem to be at home swinging from branches and ropes and having a nice swim from time-to-time. But things haven't always been so rosy for these monkeys. At one stage, a number of the monkeys spread Herpes B to each other, which is contagious to humans. Herpes B causes lesions around the mouth in monkeys and cold sores in humans. However, it can also lead to encephalitis in the human brain, leading to swelling and potentially even death. In 2000, the council considered putting them down, but had a change of heart after a barrage of outrage from the Launceston community.
The council consulted with zoologists and infectious diseases experts and discovered the risk of spreading the disease to humans was very low. Instead of euthanasing the monkeys, the council improved the enclosure and living conditions in 2002. Animal welfare activists saw the move as a huge win and hoped the results would be replicated in zoos and enclosures across Australia. The monkeys also enjoyed a spruced-up spring clean of their enclosure in 2014.
The facilities are new, improved and suited to the discerning primate.
While the monkeys are a highlight of City Park, it's well worth a visit for other reasons also. There is a lovely pond that ducks and birds like to swim in, a Thomas the Tank engine train that chugs around carrying children as cargo, a war memorial, gardens, a giant chess board, a glorious conservatory, a children's playground, fountains and a range of trees and flowers.
But as one Trip Advisor reviewer says, "flowers have got nothing on monkeys".
And it's true. Monkeys are bewildering and amazing to watch. They are so human-like with their soulful eyes and animated expressions. Watching the monkeys interact, it's easy to see how closely related we are as humans.
Their behaviours are also astounding – sometimes they are loving and cuddly with each other and at other times they will have terrible emotional outbursts and start fighting. They will then move into preening each other's fur, going for a swim, and playing with their babies.
Preening and looking beautiful. Just a day in the life of a Japanese macaque.
Unlike humans, the monkeys signal peace with each other by pulling back their lips and grimacing with teeth showing. If they stare but cover their teeth, it's a totally different ball game – a threat is being issued.
Cooing babies want attention from their mothers, and cooing females want good loving from the boys. Keep this in mind before your monkey-viewing experience and watch out for the signs and you look through the enclosure. It's all fascinating stuff, and you will barely notice when half an hour, an hour or even two hours fly by.
Some viewing tips for your new mates, primates, I mean.
Like Hobart, it can be a little tricky to find awesome, free things to do when visiting in Launceston. The monkey enclosure would have to be at the top of the list. The primates often get more than 1000 visitors a day, so it's easy to see they're a huge drawcard for the city.
Sure, it's something of a surprise to see these snow-loving primates re-homed in the far-flung reaches of Tasmania, but they are also a much-loved and adored aspect of Launceston culture, and no trip to Launnie is complete without a visit.
More things to swing from than you can poke a peanut at.
It's a tough life being a Macaque monkey in the wild, especially if you are at the bottom of the pecking order. I've seen documentaries on them, showing how those low on the social ladder aren't allowed into the hot springs during winter and can freeze to death. Very unfair. At least that's not a problem here.