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Africa / Asia

Watch Your Wallet: These Monkeys Mean Business

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Con ArtistThink you’re a savvy traveler? Then you’re probably wise to backdoor shenanigans like crooked money changers, unscrupulous cabbies and “good Samaritans.”

But in India and South Africa, a new breed of swindlers are fleecing both shrewd and naïve tourists alike. Keep reading to find out how you can avoid getting hustled …

In Cape Town, South Africa, gangs of wily baboons bamboozle unsuspecting visitors by distracting them and breaking into their cars.

They run their racket like seasoned con artists. Here’s how it works: one baboon sets up a tactical lookout post down the road. When he spots a car, he calls out to the other baboons waiting in the wings. When they hear this, two or three wander out into the middle of the road and spring the trap by creating a diversion.Don't trust them...

The car stops and the clueless victims get out to take pictures and marvel at the funny monkeys. While the people are distracted, the other baboons swoop in to take their food and other belongings. They’ve even learned how to open doors.

Most baboons travel in hierarchical societies known as “troops.” Cape Town is home to 17 of these troops consisting of about 420 baboons. One troop in particular has become notorious for breaking into cars. Their ringleader, a grizzled veteran known as “Fred,” orchestrates the sting with the help of his 28 followers.

Cape Town will likely see a surge in tourism when the city plays host to the World Cup in 2010. The city is reportedly trying to set up a crossing gate on the road near the Cape of Good Hope nature reserve, where the baboons operate their scam. At the gate, cars would be given a pamphlet in their native language that explains why they should lock their doors and close their windows if they see baboons.

Want to make sure you don’t get duped while you’re on vacation? Check out Peter’s advice on how to avoid classic travel scams.

Meanwhile, mischievous rhesus monkeys are wreaking havoc in the crowded markets of Jaipur, India. These clever, pink-faced monkeys seem to rely more on their dexterity and small hands than meticulously planned schemes. They’ve been known to swipe vegetables from vendors, sneak into cars to steal lunches and even pickpocket people.

But the victims are helpless to fight back because these monkeys are considered sacred in India. The city actually relies on a specially designated government monkey catcher to round up the most roguish ones and safely escort them out of town.

Rhesus MacaquesRhesus monkeys, which typically travel in packs of 50, are known to become very territorial and engage in turf wars with rival gangs. Because most of their diet consists of food taken from humans, neighborhoods with the most tourists are highly sought after.

One such hot spot is the Temple of the Sun God, which has become better known as the “monkey temple” since the rhesus monkeys took over.

Although they may seem cute and playful, it is important to remember that these baboons and rhesus monkeys are wild animals that could be dangerous—to you and your lunch. So stay on your guard, and remember that even if a monkey seems like he’s trying to help you, he could be up to something.

By Dan Bence for PeterGreenberg.com.

Related Links: ABC News, NPR, Examiner

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