First Click: When animals attack tech

June 9th, 2016

It doesn’t take a hurricane or an asteroid to remind us that our technological prowess is still at the mercy of nature. Sometimes, it only takes a monkey.

On Tuesday, the entire country of Kenya lost electricity for nearly four hours, and it was all because of a clumsy monkey. According to the Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen), a monkey fell onto a transformer Tuesday morning at the largest generator in the country. The incident tripped the transformer, triggering a domino effect that brought down other generators. Some areas were only blacked out for 15 minutes; others were out for hours. The monkey, believed to be a vervet, survived the fall and was handed over to Kenya’s wildlife service, according to KenGen.

A KenGen spokesman told CNN that the outage was unprecedented. "This is the first such disruption we've had by a monkey," he said. But as The Washington Post points out, there is a precedent for vervets being super annoying. About 300 of them kept harassing women in a Kenyan village in 2007, reportedly in an attempt to steal their crops. Some of the women even claimed that the monkeys were taunting them with what the BBC called "sexually explicit gestures."

Other species have been known to disrupt power service, as well. This year, a marten singlehandedly brought down the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, and field mice brought down a Swedish ISP’s service for two days in 2005. Cable-chewing monkeys have been causing outages in India, as have squirrels in the US. (A website called CyberSquirrel tracks the outages across the globe.)

Some animal threats may have been overblown. After video of a shark eating an undersea internet cable went viral in 2014, the International Cable Protection Committee issued a statement saying that the threat was overhyped. Still, there’s something humbling about the fact that even in 2016, our mighty tech infrastructure is still at the mercy of one monkey’s misstep.

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