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On the western edge of the ancient city of Kyoto, Japan, on the slope of Mount Arashiyama (literally “Stormy Mountain”), stands the Iwatayama Monkey Park. The park has winding paths and fine views of Kyoto, but the main attraction is the tribe of about a hundred and forty macaques who live there. The monkeys of Iwatayama are famously gregarious, playful, and, occasionally, crafty. Like all members of the Macaca genus, they combine sociability and intelligence. They play with their kin, watch one another’s young, learn new skills from one another, and even have distinctive group habits.
Some develop a mania for bathing, snowball-making, washing food, fishing, or using seawater as a seasoning. Iwatayama macaques are known for flossing and for playing with stones. This has led some scientists to argue that macaques have a culture, something we’ve traditionally thought of as distinctly human. They’re also humanlike in their natural curiosity and cunning: one second, you’re watching one do something cute, and the next second, his friends are making off with the bag of food you bought at the park’s entrance.