Residents barricaded indoors, gang wars on the streets and no-go zones in the city – this is not the cartel badlands of Mexico but the Thai city of Lopburi which is overrun by monkeys.
In a time before coronavirus locals tolerated the macaques – thought to number 6,000 amid a human population of 750,000 – because they attracted tourists who paid good money to feed them fruit and take pictures.
But lockdowns have stopped the tourists from coming which means the monkeys are running short on food, turning them violent and leaving locals struggling to keep control.
In March the primates were pictured getting into a mass brawl over bananas after the supply dwindles.
People have since taken to feeding them junk food in an attempt to keep the peace, but many believe the sugary diet has turned them sex-crazed and that they are now breeding faster than before.
Lopburi is home to some 6,000 macaques which were a major tourist draw before lockdown stopped visitors from coming – but have now turned into a menace for locals
Residents say that without tourists to feed the monkeys they have turned violent, attacking people and each-other in an increasingly desperate search for food
Some locals have taken to feeding the monkeys junk food in order to keep the fragile peace, but others claim this has turned the animals sex-crazed and means they are breeding faster than before
The monkeys have also started taking over abandoned properties in the city. A cinema that has long been derelict now acts as their base, and even contains a burial ground in a projection room – with anyone who enters attacked
Residents of Lopburi have taken to putting bars across their windows to stop the monkeys getting in, claiming they are forced to live in cages while the animals have free roam of the streets
With no visitors to occupy their time or feed them, the monkeys are increasingly causing problems for locals who say they are becoming increasingly aggressive
A monkey pulls a rubber strip off the roof of a car in Lopburi – an incident that residents say is becoming more frequent now there are no tourists to occupy them
A macaque pulls at a sign warning people not to feed the monkeys, advice that some locals have been ignoring in an attempt to stop them fighting
Pointing to the overhead netting covering her terrace, Kuljira Taechawattanawanna feels like a prisoner in her own home. ‘We live in a cage but the monkeys live outside,’ she says.
‘Their excrement is everywhere, the smell is unbearable especially when it rains.’
The fearless primates rule the streets around the Prang Sam Yod temple in the centre of Lopburi, patrolling the tops of walls and brazenly ripping the rubber seals from car doors.
A government sterilisation campaign is now being waged against the creatures after the epidemic provoked an unexpected change in their behaviour.
Footage of hundreds of them brawling over food in the streets went viral on social media in March.
Their growing numbers – doubling in three years – have made an uneasy coexistence with their human peers almost intolerable.
Some areas of the city have simply been surrendered to the monkeys.
An abandoned cinema is the macaques’ headquarters – and cemetery. Dead monkeys are laid to rest by their peers in the projection room in the cinema’s rear and any human who enters is attacked.
Nearby, a shop owner displays stuffed tiger and crocodile toys to try to scare off the monkeys, who regularly snatch spray-paint cans from his store.
No one in Lopburi seems to remember a time without the monkeys, with some speculating that the urban creep into nearby forest displaced the simians into the city.
Residents have taken it upon themselves to feed the macaques to prevent clashes.
An abandoned shop has been taken over by monkeys, where they will sleep, breed, and even go to die after locals discovered what appeared to be a ‘burial ground’ inside a cinema
A macaque eats a piece of Chinese cabbage outside a shop in Lopburi after being fed by a local trying to keep the peace
Locals eating on the street are watched over by longtailed macaques which have been left hungry after tourists vanished
A man observes a pack of the animals as they prowl a street corner in the centre of Lopburi where they live
Domestic tourists walk around a shrine that is typically thronging with monkeys who were thrown fruit by the visitors, but the stream of food has now dried up
A macaque sits on top of a statue close to Lopburi’s main temple, another tourists attraction where they used to collect food
A sign put up to warn tourists about the monkeys now serves as a grim reminder to locals who have been left to deal with the increasingly violent animals after visitors stopped coming
But locals say the sugary diet of fizzy drinks, cereal and sweets has fuelled their sex lives.
‘The more they eat, the more energy they have… so they breed more,’ says Pramot Ketampai, who manages the Prang Sam Yod temple’s surrounding shrines.
The macaques’ mob fights have drawn the attention of authorities, who restarted a sterilisation programme this month after a three-year pause.
Wildlife department officers lure the animals into cages with fruit and take them to a clinic where they are anaesthetised, sterilised and left with a tattoo to mark their neutering.
They aim to fix 500 of the creatures by Friday.
But the campaign may not be enough to quell their numbers and the department has a long-term plan to build a sanctuary in another part of the city.
But that will likely be met with resistance from the human residents.
‘We need to do a survey of the people living in the area first,’ said Narongporn Daudduem from the wildlife department.
‘It’s like dumping garbage in front of their houses and asking them if they’re happy or not.’
Taweesak Srisaguan, the shop owner in Lopburi who uses stuffed animals as a deterrent to the unwanted monkey visitors, says that despite his daily joust with the creatures, he will miss them if they are moved.
‘I’m used to seeing them walking around, playing on the street,’ he says.
‘If they’re all gone, I’d definitely be lonely.’