Residents in Kiso, Nagano Prefecture, gather to test-fire the new air guns to fight back against monkeys and protect crops on Aug. 9. (Yasushi Sato)

KISO, Nagano Prefecture--A quiet farming village in the highlands here has a monkey problem.

The primates like the produce as much as the consumers do.

And though it's not quite at "Planet of the Apes" level, farmers and others concerned are fighting back using instant messaging and new air pistols.

Earlier this month, about 20 farmers and workers in construction and water supply utility businesses gathered at the Kiso town office's Kaida branch to learn to shoot air guns the town purchased exclusively to scare off monkeys.

The Kaida Highlands rise more than 1,000 meters above sea level, nestled at the foot of Mount Ontake. Because of the temperature difference, crops grow well, particularly sweet corn, which is popular.

The delectable crops, however, have in recent years attracted unwanted guests.

Monkeys living in the surrounding areas have targeted such produce as corn and buckwheat.

Equipped with air guns that residents can borrow, the Kaida branch has tried to counter such encroachments, but the defense was always too late--by the time residents arrived on the scene, the clever primates were gone.

Furthermore, weighing more than 2 kilograms, the air guns are not easy for residents to handle.

Some residents opted to fire off bottle rockets at monkeys, but the measure was ineffective.

After a lot of frustration, the town came up with the idea of using the Line group-messaging app. When a resident spots a monkey and posts a message, armed "monkey fighters" nearby who receive the message can then rush to the scene.

Using the prefectural subvention, the town spent about 850,000 yen ($79,760) to purchase 30 air guns and biodegradable pellets.

The new guns are a handgun type and weigh just 500 to 600 grams each.

On Aug. 9, about 20 volunteers visited the branch office and learned how to set up a Line account and engaged in target practice with their new weapons.

The "trained soldiers" then received matching hats and a certificate acknowledging their abilities to fire warning shots against harmful animals from the Kiso town mayor.

So far, about 30 residents have been certified and become members of the so-called "monkey chaser" squad.

"It's encouraging that people in the community have banded together for a common cause," said Shinji Nakata, a 54-year-old Chinese cabbage grower who has been troubled by monkeys.

Kimito Urashima, chief of the Kaida branch, said, "We don't know how well (the measures) will work, but it's important for the community to do its best."