The Japanese zoo’s new leader. Photo: Courtesy of Takasakiyama Natural Zoo
Yakei’s ascension to power started when she saw her daughter getting scolded.About a month ago, the monkey’s 2-year-old child was seen fighting with a fellow playmate. The tribe boss at the time, 31-year-old male Nanchu, witnessed the scuffle and subsequently trudged over to break it up.But Yakei, who was observing on the sidelines, stepped in before any hands were raised. The enraged mother then fought Nanchu, forcing him to surrender—and making history in the process.
On Friday, Takasakiyama Zoo crowned Yakei as a female Japanese monkey boss, the first time the title did not go to a male since the zoo opened 53 years ago.The 9-year-old monkey’s assertive nature earned her the official title of “boss,” shattering all primate glass ceilings. Children now step out of her path, males cower and run from her when she approaches.The zoo was astonished, said Tadamori Fujita, a caretaker at the facility. Not only was she the first female boss in this local monkey sanctuary’s history, it was practically unheard of nationally.“The only other example I’ve heard is a female monkey in Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo. Other than that, you just never hear this happening. It’s very rare,” he told VICE World News.Though nonplussed, Fujita reckoned if any female monkey would become the megaboss, it’d be Yakei, considering her fiery nature. Yakei’s 20-year-old mother, Bikei, was the matriarch before Yakei shoved her out earlier this year to be the head of the female monkeys. “Yakei was privileged to be raised by such a strong female leader. We think this influence helped her achieve that title,” he said. According to Fujita, while female monkeys have a fairly loose social hierarchy, male monkeys determine who’s boss by age: the oldest male is the more senior. Former male leader Nanchu was 31 years old, or about 100 in human years. Most of the other male monkeys in the group B troop, which Yakei now leads, are equivalent to human grandpas in their 80s. Yakei is in her 30s in human years.
But Yakei ignored social norms and fought her way up.Now, as the chief of group B, a troop of 677 male and female macaques, Yakei seems to be enjoying her newly acquired power. “If you’re the boss, you don’t have to show consideration for other monkeys. And oftentimes because they’re physically stronger, they get more food,” Fujita said. Yakei now walks about the monkey exhibit with her tail up, a distinctly male behavior. She also tries to pick fights with others, but no monkey gets close enough to engage. No one knows what grand plans Yakei has with her newfound power, but Fujita reckons the mother of three could be adding more infants to her litter.“Monkeys aren’t monogamous by nature. So come November to March, the colder months, females freely reproduce with the male monkeys. She’s been a mother since the age of five, so there could be more,” he said.But whatever her winter engagements are, nothing will stop Yakei from claiming what’s hers. King Kong, she’s coming for your name.Follow Hanako Montgomery on Twitter and Instagram.