The island of Saint Kitts, in the western Caribbean: a tiny speck of land some 18 miles long and 5 miles across. A great holiday destination if you’re into sand, sun, sea – and mischievous monkeys. But these monkeys are different from most: they like to indulge in a bit of hardcore boozing every now and then.
Vervet monkeys originate in southern and eastern Africa, but some were taken as pets on boats that brought slaves to the Caribbean during the seventeenth century. They have since flourished and can now be found running wild on many Caribbean islands, including Saint Kitts. For a while, the monkeys ate sugar canes fermenting on local plantations but then they found a more ready source of alcohol: tourists.
Nowadays, the monkeys roam the pristine beaches, ready to sneak in whenever tourists leave their cocktails unattended for a split second. They even hang around in bars, hoping to grab any leftovers. Most vervet monkeys are moderate social drinkers, only drinking when in the company of other monkeys – and even then they usually wash down their alcohol with some fruit juice. A few don’t like the taste of alcohol at all, but around one in twenty monkeys are binge drinkers. They gulp down so much booze that they eventually pass out.
Sometimes, the hard-drinking monkeys become extremely aggressive when drunk, making a lot of noise and starting fights. Most of these heavy drinkers are young males, whilst some individuals have even been known to drink themselves to death. The similarities between these monkeys and our own society are unnerving.
Other monkeys elsewhere in the world become dependent on drink as well. John ‘Mad Jack’ Mytton was a British eccentric from the nineteenth century who liked to hunt foxes in the dead of night, stark naked. Mytton was an avid drinker, capable of getting through eight bottles of wine a day, and he encouraged his pet monkey to be just as passionate about alcohol as he was. In the end, though, his monkey became too obsessed with drink and died after mistakenly swallowing a bottle of boot polish.
And nor are monkeys the only animals to resort to drink or drugs. In 2011, the rather comical video of an intoxicated moose that had become entangled in an apple tree in Sweden after gorging on fermenting fruit was released onto YouTube and quickly went viral. Bighorn sheep in the Canadian Rockies go to great lengths to find a rare narcotic lichen; jaguars sometimes veer away from their meat-only diet to gnaw on the bark of the hallucinogenic yajѐ vine; and reindeer have been known to deliberately forage for – and even fight over – the psychedelic fly amantia mushroom.
One animal you almost certainly wouldn’t want to meet whilst it was intoxicated is the elephant. When festivals approach, many villages in India stockpile fermenting drinks, which are stored in large earthenware vessels just outside the villages, but they are sometimes found and drank by Asian elephants. In December 2010, a herd of elephants became drunk in this way and rampaged through a village, killing three people and destroying sixty homes. The villagers were forced to start rebuilding the next day as the elephants were reportedly sleeping off their hangovers.
But whatever happened to John Mytton? Well, after he made one of his horses drink a large bottle of port after winning a race (which promptly killed it), he was incarcerated within the King’s Bench debtor’s prison for squandering his fortune on sporting pursuits, dog fights and the company of women. He died in the prison, according to one account, ‘worn out by too much wretchedness and too much brandy’.