Japan: Monkey sightings at high altitudes are not a symptom of global warming, despite a growing perception that climate change is altering the primates` habitat range in alpine areas of Japan, according to scientists.
While changes in the environment have affected the movements of some species, monkeys have been observed high in mountainous areas for at least 40 years, the scientists say.
On a recent trek near the top of the 2,922-meter Mt. Otensho in Nagano Prefecture, a couple of Japanese monkeys were spotted wandering, while another could be seen with something in its mouth behind the bushes of dwarf stone pines.
Their appearance in alpine habitats has surprised many trekkers, even those with decades of experience in mountaineering.
"It`s surprising to see them up here," one climber said.
"I didn`t know that monkeys climb so high these days.
"Many climbers believe the presence of monkeys on high mountains has similar origins to the overabundance of Japanese deer.
Deer populations are expanding in mountainous areas amid a decline in snow as a result of global warming, posing a serious threat to endemic plant species.
But Shigeyuki Izumiyama, professor at Shinshu University in the prefecture who has long studied monkeys on the Japanese Alps, says the monkey phenomenon is not a recent one, explaining that monkeys have been reported on mountains higher than 3,000 meters for at least the past 40 years.
The highest point where monkeys have been sighted is the 3,180-meter summit of Mt. Yari on the Northern Alps, according to Izumiyama.
Hiroaki Sakaki, 40, who runs a lodge near the top of Mt. Otensho, supports Izumiyama`s argument, saying, "Monkeys climb up around here every fall and it seems that they come here to eat pine nuts.
"Professor Yasuyuki Muroyama at Toyo University in Tokyo, meanwhile, said, "It seems true that monkeys are more often sighted on mountains than ever.
"Monkeys are no longer frightened by human beings and do not run away even if they encounter people on trails," the professor said.
Sakaki said he usually warns climbers who stay at his lodge not to make eye contact with moneys, even if they find them on trails, and never to feed them.