A pet monkey who escaped his pen in South Lebanon and crossed into Israel, despite the two countries being at war with one another, has become an unlikely “messenger for peace”, says the French nun who owns him.
People on both sides of the tense and heavily patrolled border have been taking pictures and videos of Tachtouche, a Kenyan vervet pet monkey who is recognisable because of his shorter than average tail.
His ability to cross a border, which has been closed for nearly 20 years, has also attracted hundreds of comments from surprised social media users.
“Stop the joke, come back. That’s not how you liberate Palestine,” wrote one Lebanese Facebook user on a local news page that shared pictures of Tachtouche, attracting hundreds of comments.
“Come back, or they will take you prisoner,” wrote another.
Lebanon and Israel are officially at war and Israel has built walls along the border, as well as set up surveillance cameras to monitor the activities of Hezbollah, the Lebanese political party that rules South Lebanon.
However, in some places the two countries are separated only by a fence, which could potentially be climbed by a monkey.
Sister Beatrice Mauger, the French Nun who bought Tachtouche as a pet a few days before the incident, said she was happy that his escape garnered so much attention.
“It lightens up the tense atmosphere here”, she said.
She also hopes that the monkey's escapade will translate into a “message for peace”.
“I have faith in God and I believe that it’s not an accident that Tachtouche escaped. [God] is thumbing his nose at a border that divides us humans,” said Sister Mauger.
“It’s his way of asking, 'what’s the point of electrified fences?' You are all brothers.”
It's not the first time Tachtouche has done a runner, however. Sister Mauger told The National that she acquired the monkey after it had previously escaped from its owner in Tyre, Lebanon, and was captured by a man who then sold him to Sister Mauger. She says she was unaware at the time that his owner was looking for him.
She built a pen for the monkey, thinking he would integrate well with her farm, called Ark for Peace in reference to Noah’s ark. Tachtouche, however, quickly made an escape through a hole in the pen.
After the monkey became a media sensation, his previous owner contacted Sister Mauger.
“He told me that if I managed to bring him back from Israel, I could keep him,” she said.
Sister Mauger is yet to recapture the escapee, but she has contacted the United Nations Interim Force In Lebanon, which patrols the border, to help her recover him and has offered a reward to whoever finds him.
Unifil regularly mediates to help Lebanese shepherds retrieve sheep or goats that have inadvertently crossed into Israel. The Israeli army gives them over to Unifil, who returns them to their owners.
Shepherds who cross into Israel to fetch their livestock risk being imprisoned on their return to Lebanon.
The border was open until 2000, when Israel withdrew from South Lebanon after 18 years of occupation. Many Lebanese people used to cross the border every day for work.
"Tartouche is not an aggressive monkey, but it will be hard to catch him in the open. He must be lured with fruit into a closed space," Sister Mauger said.