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Snow monkey

This day the descendants of that ancient tribe still roamed the mountains of central Japan and this is where our story begins it’s early winter in the Japanese Alps but already the temperature is well below freezing here boiling volcanic waters feed the Yukon River keeping it ice-free I went along snow monkeys take advantage of the subterranean heat by huddling over thermal vents higher up in the trees families cling tightly together in the frigid morning air no one is quick to rise well almost no one hero is just eight months old and as he watches the juveniles play he’s anxious to start his day as well hero and his friends are determined to get the rest of the troop on their feet no easy task and family this size the troop is 160 members in all mostly females and their offspring males usually leave home before they reach sexual maturity but a handful of adult males may stick with a troop ensuring its safety hero’s mother is a lower ranking female a status he’ll likely share until he’s old enough to leave the troop and short his own path his rambunctious play has even roused the troops leader kuroh son has a reputation for being ill-tempered with little tolerance for youngsters the clan roosts high in the mountains but every morning they heed a familiar call a whistle from the valley below beckons him down the mountain hero and his cousin are still busy playing while the rest of the family is already on the move and this is why they’re in such a hurry grain has been scattered to supplement the troops meter winter diet and no one wants to be late for breakfast but someone is missing Hiro and his cousin have lagged behind and his cousin is no help at all just one familiar face is all it takes and they are back on track keeping up of the troop is vital for snow monkeys family is survival but there’s something else drawing them down the mountain Shikoku Danny or hell Valley is famous for its hot springs and some 50 years ago one was built exclusively for the held valley troop it became an overnight sensation and snow monkeys have been soaking up the warm volcanic waters ever since it’s a communal affair open to all regardless of rank every member of the troop is a unique individual some a little more unique than others take bubbles for example she loves making bubbles in the water surface and seems completely engrossed in the task and their Shiro Sam he’s a lover of the hot spring even earning the nickname hot springs uncle he’s supposed to be pure Oh Sam’s right-hand man when trouble breaks out for these fans most of his days lounging with the ladies kuroh son rarely enters the hot spring instead he spends his days alone he still new to the job of trip leader and perhaps the added stress has made him more withdrawn than normal but that doesn’t stop Hiro maybe it’s the bitter cold or maybe he thinks kuru son leaves a little company Kyra son ignores Hiro’s gesture he’d rather be alone yet it seems no matter where he goes he is surrounded by little ones as evening approaches the troupe must seek shelter deeper in the forest but kuro-san seems reluctant to lead maybe it’s all too much for him the late day flurries are a reminder the worst of winter is yet to come a fresh bed of snow fills the forest floor and the troop takes to the trees to avoid the deep drifts on a steep hillside the gang of juveniles is playing king of the mountain play fighting us how young monkeys test each other strengths and weaknesses sorting out a delicate balance of power this is not a battle yet but a dance one young gang leader decides to turn this into a more serious contest the juveniles caught down he’ll feel threatened by his aggression and call for reinforcements but their

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