Mandrill Attack

Assignment Houston One/Creative Commons

Critic Steven Pleithman mentions a news item that may have helped inspire Poe's "Murders in the Rue Morgue," in which an orangutan invades a Parisian house through a window. In the news article, the invader is not an orangutan, but a mandrill, then known as a "rib-faced baboon."

"New Mode of Thieving"

Mrs. S. retired to her bedroom, and before her husband had desisted from his supper enjoyments, some of the family was alarmed by a scream from her bedroom, and one of the inmates (a female) proceeding thither, was attacked on entering the door, by a monkey (or a Ribbed-face Baboon) which threw her down, and placing his feet upon her breast, held her pinned firmly to the ground. The screams of Mrs Smith brought up her husband, who, seeing the condition of the prostrate female, assailed the monkey, and compelled him to quit his hold on the female, and thereby drew all his vengeance upon himself. The brute took up his position on the wash-basin stand; and every attempt to dislodge him brought to the ground some fragile articles of furniture. . . till, on Mr Smith attempting to go into another room for his pistols, the monkey leapt on his back with the speed of lightning, made various attempts to reach his throat, broke his watch guard asunder in rage, and, dropping to the ground, bit his leg, and again fled to the basin-stand. . . . But where did did this Baboon come from? The animal had been danced through this town two or three days by itinerant showmen; and had either escaped from them or been let loose for the sake of his plundering. . . . It appears he had dropped from the eaves of the house to the windowsill of Mrs. Smith's chamber, and got into the room through the window, which as left partly open. The owner recovered the animal from the housetops next morning, and escaped to Ludlow.

--from the Ipswich Shrewsbury Chronicle (August 22, 1834)

Despite the cynicism of the Ipswich writer, it seems highly unlikely a mandrill would be trained for thievery. For one thing, they aren't particularly good at going unnoticed. This account reads a lot like modern reports of macaques and other monkeys raiding urban kitchens in Asia. 

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  1. It is interesting that in several children's stories and cartoons I've heard mention that "mandrills are thieves" or even "mandrills are supossed to steal". I wonder if it all comes from that particular incident!
    What a frightening experience for the people in that house, tho... it is easy to underestimate the size and might of these guys...

  2. I'm not sure- at first I thought it was being prepared for a tooth surgery.
    It would be a crime to castrate such a beast! XD

  3. (By the way, I know the teeth are in the other side XD I thought they were running a general exam first. But then I realized this photo didn´t belong to the same batch that was captioned as "tooth surgery". Whatever...)

  4. My impression is that captive primates usually get vasectomies, rather than "the full treatment."

  5. I wouldn´t know... the people at the local zoo are happy to leave their primates breed.

  6. 'Trained for thievery' reminds me of my time growing up in NYC. There was a burglary ring in the Bronx that used some type of small trained monkey to scale fire escape railings of buildings & enter thru open windows to steal 'shiny things' & bring back to their trainers who'd give them treats. 'Shiny things' ranged from silverware to Rolex watches to aluminum foil

  7. That's amazing. Just think how well those guys could have done by putting half that energy into some legit enterprise.

  8. I agree. Its amazing how far people will go. IIRC, the crew took idea off a street organ driver, which were common among impoverished & immigrant populations during 19th & early 20th century

  9. On a similar crime note, I understand that Parisian thugs in recent years have used Barbary macaques to help them mug people. Apparently this is a way to get around laws against owning attack dogs.


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