I was hanging out on Koh Samui in Thailand for a few weeks, at a pleasant little retreat on the west side of the island. One day, this man showed up on a motorbike with a monkey. (I assume the man was driving, but I have to confess, I didn’t really notice one way or the other, as I was too busy thinking that the monkey, at least, should have had on a helmet, and then designing said monkey helmet in my mind.)
The man quietly spoke a few words in Thai to the monkey, who then scampered up a coconut tree and started chucking coconuts down. Apparently, this is his job. He’s a CocoMonkey! He was very efficient. The man said he could pick about 500 coconuts per day. This is handy, because coconuts are an important commercial product in Thailand, and it would take a human a long time to pick 500 coconuts. A monkey can do it in a few hours. Most farmers have two or three monkeys, who take turns picking coconuts, so no one gets overworked or too tired.
The monkeys are trained to go up, find the coconuts, spin the coconut until it snaps free from the tree, and then drop it on the ground. The farmer usually takes it from there, and gathers them up.
There’s actually a coconut-picking “Monkey Training College” in Surat Thani, Thailand, just across from Koh Samui on the mainland.
The monkeys are trained with concepts from Buddhism, using kindness and gentleness to teach them their trade, never force or violence. There are three levels of schooling at the Monkey Training College. Elementary School teaches the monkey basic coconut picking, and how to free himself when his line gets hung up in the tree. It costs about 6,000 Thai Bhat ($184 USD) to put a monkey through elementary school. This is the extent of most monkeys’ training. But, there is also Secondary Monkey School, where the monkeys are trained to gather the picked coconuts, put them in bags, and take them wherever they are instructed. This extra training is expensive, though, at about 25,000 Thai Bhat ($767 USD) per monkey–a little beyond the budget of most farmers. Then there is Monkey High School, which is customized to what the owner needs, and priced accordingly.
You can visit the Monkey Training College, and even stay overnight, so you can see the students in action: http://www.firstmonkeyschool.com/index.html. Or, you can just hang out on the beach in Koh Samui and wait for coconut picking day, and watch the Monkey College graduates, quite literally, throw down!