PETALING JAYA, Malaysia––Malaysian natural resources and environment minister Douglas Uggah “has ordered an immediate investigation by a team from his ministry into the alleged inhumane massacre of wild monkeys by its contractors,” Michelle Chun of the Sun Daily reported on March 29, 2013.
In effect, Uggah ordered the Malaysian federal wildlife agency, Perhilitan, to investigate itself concerning allegations which include possible official collusion in exporting long-tailed macaques, also called “crab-eating macaques,” for either laboratory use or human consumption.
“Regardless of the findings, the ministry should order an immediate cessation of the culling,” responded Parti Keadilan Rakyat (People’s Justice Party) vice president N. Surendran, who also heads the Malaysia Animal Rights Society.
Medical doctor and Kota Melaka MCA (Malay Chinese Association) complaint bureau deputy chief Yee Kok Wah brought the monkey killings to light, disclosing that Perhilitan oversaw killing 87,900 monkeys in 2011, and 97,200 in 2012.
Among the 13 Malaysian states, the culls were concentrated in six, according to Perhilitan. Killed in 2012 were 20,600 monkeys in Johor state, 18,800 in Selangor, 16,000 in Perak, 13,000 in Kedah, and more than 8,000 each in Pahang and Negri Sembilan.
“The primates should not have been exterminated, as they were not diseased,” Yee Kok Wah told R.S.N. Murali of the Star of Malaysia. “We have a moral responsibility to look after the primates,” Yee Kok Wah added, recommending that a sanctuary should be established to which problem monkeys could be relocated.
“They will not pose a danger to humans if they are relocated to the jungle,” Yee Kok Wah told The Star.
“Dr Yee said there was a report saying that captured wild macaques from Malaysia had ended up on dinner plates in China, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan, or in research laboratories,” Murali wrote.
“We would like to disassociate ourselves with this very serious allegation,” responded Uggah in a prepared statement. “We stopped exporting long-tailed macaques for commercial purpose after 1986. We are only culling the problematic population in urban and suburban areas, not macaques who live in protected forests. The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species 2012 categorized the long-tailed macaques as a species of least concern,” Uggah continued. “This department received 40,407 complaints about human/macaque conflict from 2007 to 2012, including 10,232 in 2008, before the culling started, but only 3,235 in 2012.”
“In my 40 years of working for primate protection, I never saw anything as shocking as this—or a better-kept secret,” said International Primate Protection League founder Shirley McGreal. “The Malaysian public had no clue what was going on and was not involved in the decision-making process. The plan was devised and implemented with almost no public knowledge in Malaysia and no hearings. The killing started in 2011 and will last for five years.”
McGreal said she had learned from a colleague in Malaysia that the culling targets long-tailed macaques while apparently exempting the less numerous pigtailed macaques.
Supporting Malaysian protesters, “We are contacting embassies, government officials, and Malaysian tourist bureaus,” McGreal said.
Wildlife veterinarian Sharmini Paramasivam told media that non-lethal approaches should have been used instead. “We should first look at how residential areas are planned,” she said. Then, if housing areas cannot be made less attractive to monkeys, she explained, “Studies have shown that effective waste management and sterilization reduce the size of the population.”
Holding a masters degree in applied animal behavior and animal welfare from the Royal School of Veterinary Studies at the University of Edinburgh, Paramasivam was for two years a staff vet at the International Animal Rescue facility for macaques and slow lorises at Ciapus, Indonesia. Returning home to Malaysia in mid-2012, she “is busy establishing contacts with various nonprofit organizations and government agencies in an effort to put in place wildlife conflict management programs,” S. Indramalar of the Star of Malaysia reported in November 2012.
Said S.M. Mohd Idris, president of Sahabat Alam Malaysia (Malaysian Friends of the Earth), “As far back as 2008-09 Perhilitan called for meetings with experts, nonprofit organizations, and veterinarians to discuss reducing the monkey population through sterilization. A local veterinarian based in Hong Kong was present to lend her advice and expertise. However this program fizzled out.
“Culling is not the final answer to the monkey problem,” Idris emphasized, speaking from the perspective of having had monkeys tearing pieces of roofing off of his own house. “Animals who are successful in reproduction and adaptive to human environments will quickly repopulate after culling. Other monkeys will fill the niche left empty. Long-tailed macaques exist in the absence of humans on forest edges with suitable access to fruits and crustaceans,” Idris explained. “However, the urban environment facilitates their feeding and reproduction potential by increasing group sizes and decreasing their need to forage and seek wild habitat. Unintentionally, humans contribute to the problem by leaving garbage for monkeys to raid.”
Reducing the macaque population through contraception or sterilization is possible, Idris said, but “The government must bring in people who are trained to do it and committed to do it for years.” As with dogs and cats, Idris wrote, “The contraception/sterilization program must be ongoing until the population stabilizes and begins to decrease.”
Unclear, however, was whether either the size of the macaque population or macaque behavior was the primary motivation behind the alleged culling, which some observers suggested was actually a cover for covert exports.
Then-Malaysian natural resources and environment minister Azmi Khalid in September 2007 admitted that plans were proceeding to export macaques captured in cities to laboratories and Chinese live markets.
Hilary Chew and S.S. Yogi of the Star of Malaysia reported that “At least one company has submitted a business plan to the ministry proposing an export volume of between 12,000 and 20,000 monkeys per year. The plan lists the likely buyers as two labs and one breeding center in China,” Chew and Yogi wrote. “One of the labs is the Kunming Primate Research Centre, set up in 2005 as a research base for experiments against infectious diseases and bio-terrorism.”
Khalid on February 2, 2008 told the New Straits Times that the exports would not occur, but an informant told the Earth Journalism Network that wild-caught macaques from Malaysia were nonetheless “anaesthetized, bound, and gagged in order to keep them silent,” and flown in containers labeled “vegetables” to nations including Vietnam for resale to China.
Malacca state chief minister Mohamad Ali Rustam in late 2010 backed a plan for the Indian firm Vivo Bio Tech to build a primate research laboratory in Malaysia, to use locally caught macaques.
Succeeding Khalid as natural resources and environment minister, Uggah in January 2011 said that Perhilitan was considering relocating problematic monkeys to an offshore island.
“There was a time when killing 10 long-tailed macaques created hell from the public for the department. Now 150,000 are killed and there is hardly the protest of long ago. What is happening to us? Are we less caring now, and why?” former Perhilitan chief Mohammed Khan Momin Khan posted to the International Primate Protection League page on Facebook. Khan at request of IPPL banned the export of macaques for laboratory use in 1984.
Malaysians vocally objected in June 2001 after Perhilitan staff left monkeys caught in box traps out in the sun for hours, and again in September 2001, after soldiers and staff shot 97 monkeys and 15 squirrels in a contest held ostensibly to protect palm fruit and banana plantations.
But tolerance of urban macaques receded after an October 2010 incident in which a macaque swung through an open window in the city of Seremban, grabbed a four-day-old baby girl, carried her to the roof of the house, bit her on the head, ears, neck and face, and then dropped her to her death in front of her screaming mother.
Conflict with macaques has intensified in Malaysian cities coincidental with intensified official efforts to expel or exterminate street dogs. Islam is the Malaysian state religion, and the Islamic population, currently about 61% of the whole, have historically seldom kept dogs as pets. Overall, not more than 5% of Malaysian homes keep dogs or feed dogs. Animal control, meanwhile, has mostly done by shooting dogs. In Kuala Lampur, the Malaysian capital, authorities in 1999 shot more than seven dogs per 1,000 human residents, and shot five dogs per 1,000 residents in 2000.
In Johor Baru, where the most macaques were shot in 2011 and 2012, authorities shot nearly 10,000 dogs in 2006.
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