Two large sums of public money went missing in Nigeria recently. In one case, the official concerned said a MONKEY had run off with the cash and, in the other, an official said that a SNAKE took it.
The population was highly sceptical, since large sums of public money are not kept as bank notes so the animals would have had to arrange bank transfers, a bit of a challenge for any tiny-brained creatures such as snakes, monkeys, bacteria, nationalist politicians, newspaper columnists, etc.
The officials probably chose such weak excuses because there have been a rash of animal-steals-stuff stories in the news recently.
Consider what happened in Chonburi, Thailand, last month. A monkey stole a smartphone. The phone-owner’s friend Mongkol Wisulokanon pressed video call, hoping to surprise the monkey into dropping the phone. But the monkey answered the video call. The ape then sent the “bye-bye” emoji, which is a waving hand. Mongkol recorded screenshots of the exchange as proof.
This is astonishing. Many adults couldn’t do such a thing without weeks of training by small children.
This lends credence to the theory that some species (monkeys, dogs, dolphins, cats) are actually smarter than humans but hide the fact so that they don’t have to pay tax, wear clothes, work in offices, take out mortgages, etc.
In 2012 a band of monkeys reportedly learned to understand Indian train platform announcements — again something few adults can do. They would wait for the echoing voice to make an announcement: “The next train to arrive at Platform Seven will be the 2.15 express”, and they’d gather for action.
As passengers emerged on to the platform of Rajasthan’s Chittorgarh station, the monkeys would grab people’s bags, the wire service IANS reported. At the time, station bosses offered a cash prize of $365 to anyone who could think of a way of dealing with the problem, but they ignored my suggestion: Give them uniforms and call them porters.
Another recent animal-as-thief story took place in New Zealand in January this year. Auckland resident Ed Williams got into trouble when his girlfriend found another woman’s underwear at his home. Ed swore he knew nothing about it. They later discovered his cat Mo stealing clothes from neighbours.
A colleague reading over my shoulder liked the idea of blaming a cat for his love affairs, but I told him that blaming the lipstick on his collar on animals would just make his terrible reputation worse.
But my favourite “it ate my money” story happened in China a year ago. Qi Shengli, a 60-year-old farmer in Sichuan province, opened his buried savings haul of 20,000 yuan (about $3,000) and found that white ants had eaten most of it.
The bank refused to replace the money. But an artist from Beijing bought the shredded remnants of money from the farmer as “conceptual art”!
The ending of that true story leads me to two conclusions. First, life is so weird that there’s really nothing like it. Second, the theory that animals are actually smarter than us is starting to sound seriously believable. Does your household pet, like mine, give you secret pitying looks when it thinks you can’t see it? I’m sure mine does.
(Nury Vittachi is an Asia-based frequent traveller. Send ideas and comments via his Facebook page)