Snow monkeys in hot springs
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The park is inhabited by Japanese Macaques, which are also known as Snow Monkeys. It is located in the monkey's natural habitat, in the forests of the Jigokudani valley in Yamanouchi , not far from the onsen towns of Shibu and Yudanaka. The park has one man-made pool around which the monkeys gather, located a few minutes' walk from the park entrance. Visitors will likely already encounter monkeys along the path to the pool. The monkeys live in large social groups, and it can be quite entertaining to watch their interactions. Accustomed to humans, the monkeys can be observed from very close and almost completely ignore their human guests.
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Scientists have long believed that this behavior can be chalked up to a logical explanation: the monkeys are cold, and dipping in the hot springs helps them keep warm during frigid winters in northern Japan. But researchers did not have the data to back up this hypothesis. So, as James Gorman reports for the New York Times , scientists at Kyoto University recently set out to study the snow monkeys of Jigokudani, to shed some light on why the critters enjoy chilling in hot springs. Japanese macaques, also known as snow monkeys, are the most northerly species of non-human primates. Researchers believe that snow monkeys in Jigokudani maintain their body temperature by growing longer and thicker fur during winter.
It is part of the Joshinetsu Kogen National Park locally known as Shigakogen , and is located in the valley of the Yokoyu-River, in the northern part of the prefecture. The name Jigokudani, meaning "Hell's Valley", is due to the steam and boiling water that bubbles out of small crevices in the frozen ground, surrounded by steep cliffs and formidably cold and hostile forests. It is famous for its large population of wild Japanese macaques Macaca fuscata , more commonly referred to as snow monkeys, that go to the valley during the winter, foraging elsewhere in the national park during the warmer months. The monkeys descend from the steep cliffs and forest to sit in the warm waters of the onsen hotsprings , and return to the security of the forests in the evenings. However, since the monkeys are fed by park attendants, they are in the area of the hot springs all the year round, and a visit at any season will enable the visitor to observe hundreds of the macaques. Jigokudani is not the farthest north that monkeys live. No non-human primate is known to live in a colder climate.
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In winter Japanese macaques, also known as snow monkeys, warm up in natural hot springs. David Levene visits Japan's Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano, the only place in the wild where you can view the monkeys as they relax in the steaming water - while the monkey babies show more.
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