The active genetic material of chimpanzees is 99% identical to that of humans. I have met people who were less than 99% human.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Monkey Captives: Born Free, Chained for Life

(A personal note: I am in the process of relocating from Malaysia back to America, so there may be few posts between now and the end of the year. I am also participating in this year's National Novel Writing Month by attempting to write 50,000 words of fiction by 30th November, which could be affecting my rate of posting as well!)

This picture of a very young captive monkey in Cheras is blurry because I had to take it through a chain-link fence and quickly, in order not to be observed and stopped.

The following is the original text of an article I wrote that appeared in edited form in The Star (Star Weekend, Nov. 5.)

Think twice before you buy or adopt a monkey as a pet – and then don’t do it. That’s the consensus of animal experts.

As development into forests brings monkeys, primarily long-tailed macaques (kera), and humans into increased contact, more simians than ever before are turning up in cages or on chains in residential areas.

“I personally do not believe people should keep monkeys as pets,” Misliah Mohamed Basir, Director of the Law and Enforcement Division of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, told The Star. Her office has the authority to issue licenses for keeping captive monkeys, along with other wild animals, but Misliah would like to see that change.

“I understand why people are attracted to them,” she said. “They are cute and playful when they are babies. They remind us of humans. But when they grow up, they become strong, wilful and aggressive. They can be quite dangerous. Nothing can be done about the monkeys currently being kept legally as pets, but perhaps the law should be changed in the future. The government could stop issuing new monkey licenses, except in special cases, such as the use of pig-tailed macaques for harvesting coconuts in some areas.”

She told us that some people, frustrated by the difficulty of keeping an adult monkey, dump the animals on the DWNP, thinking the monkeys will be relocated into the jungle or kept in a sanctuary. “We have no place to keep them,” Misliah said. “We send them to our rescue facility at Zoo Melaka.”

At Zoo Melaka, however, The Star discovered there is no rescue awaiting the unwanted monkeys. “If they send the monkeys to us,” Dr. Choong Siew Shean, the Zoo’s veterinary officer, told us, “we euthanize them.”

The zoo has no room for them and no rehabilitation programme. “Monkeys are extremely difficult to rehab and re-release into the wild,” Dr. Choong explained. “They live in social groups that are unlikely to accept an outsider. Even if we could retrain a captive monkey to live in the wild, when we released him, he would be attacked by the existing troops and find it hard to survive.”

Neither does she see a semi-captive sanctuary as a viable alternative. “Our resources in terms of time, space, manpower and funding are limited,” she said, “and long-tailed macaques are not a priority. They are so common in Malaysia that they are generally considered a pest animal. In fact, we chase the wild ones out of the zoo, from concern for public safety.”

That brings up another problem with keeping captive monkeys. “They are a health risk to humans,” Dr. Choong said. “Not only do monkeys bite and scratch, but they can carry and pass on zoonotic diseases such as hepatitis and herpes-B to humans. It is not safe to keep them in residential areas.”

Occasionally, a monkey turned over to the Zoo may find a home with a staffer, but the issue remains the same – adult monkeys are extremely difficult to keep humanely.

That’s a problem that infuriates Sabrina Yeap, the Animal Investigator for the SPCA. She has seen many heart-breaking cases in the course of her work. “Do you know what happens when a monkey outgrows its cuteness?” she demanded of us. “It gets big and strong and fierce, so it gets locked in a cage all day or tied with a heavy chain. Some people don’t even give the monkey shelter from the sun and rain. The owner ends up beating the monkey repeatedly in a futile attempt to ‘tame’ it. It drags out a miserable life of boredom, frustration and pain in solitary confinement.”

Sabrina would like to see a ban on keeping monkeys as pets, a sanctuary for those who are confiscated from current owners and a change in the public attitude towards monkeys. She decries the labelling of monkeys as “pests.”

“Do the monkeys move into our houses and kick us out? Do they destroy our homes? No, it’s the other way around. Developers push deeper and deeper into their habitat, cutting down forests to build golf courses and housing developments, and the monkeys have nowhere to go. Then people move in and say ‘Oh, those monkeys are such pests!’ but it’s the other way around. We are the pests. We encroach into their natural homes and then blame them for intruding on us.”

She believes the solution is to make the developers responsible for relocating the monkeys (and the other animals dispossessed by development, such as snakes and lizards.) She has heard of such programmes in Europe. “They create a green passageway to another area where the animals can live, and then they use smoke to herd the wildlife from the development site to their new home. That way, they don’t have to try to do the impossible and catch every single monkey, snake, rabbit, whatever.”

She has an ally in Misliah. “Personally, I would like to see the developers have to do an Animal Impact Assessment,” Misliah told us, “similar to the Environmental Impact Assessment they already do. It should be part of their planning, part of the cost of the project.”

Meanwhile, as population pressure spurs more development, and development brings urban people into more and more contact with monkeys, it increases the risks both to humans – of disease and injury – and to the monkeys – of capture, imprisonment and mistreatment, usually based more on ignorance than ill will.

“He’s Like My Own Son”

Manja gets rowdy with his "mom" after a day of hanging out on the sidewalk with not much to do. He likes to try to pull off her head scarf (tudung) when he can.

Nadhirah Yap Bt Abdullah and her pet monkey, Manja, are a well-known sight on the sidewalk in Bangsar where Nadhirah and her husband operate a food stall. Manja appears to be a healthy, well-developed two-year-old monkey treated with great affection and a high degree of empathy by his human ‘mother.’

Nadhirah tells Manja’s story:

“I remember the exact day I first met Manja. It was May 13, 2003. My husband and I were driving home through Rawang, and we stopped to get some dinner. I saw this tiny black monkey, sitting on the ‘Do Not Enter’ sign all alone. He was so hungry, he came right to me when I offered him food. I thought he must’ve escaped from someone’s home, so we waited there for over an hour, but no-one came looking for him, so we took him home with us.

I know he needs exercise and affection and entertainment, so I do my best to give him those things. Sometimes, people come up and scold me, saying, ‘How would you like it if I put a leash on you and kept you that way?’ but they don’t understand. I couldn’t leave him to die as a baby, and he can’t go back into the wild now. He depends on us completely. I have raised him like my own son.

I bring him with me to work every day. He loves to bath, so we keep a big barrel of water next to him. He bathes at least twice a day. I put up a garden umbrella to shelter him from the sun and the rain. He likes to eat fruit – durian is his favourite, that’s why he’s a bit fat – and veggies, especially small onions. I give him a garlic pill every morning for his health. He’s only been sick once, and I took him straight to the vet for treatment.

At home, Manja has a large cage to stay in. We can’t let him roam free in the flat, because he would turn everything upside down. Like a child at bedtime, he delays going into the cage in the evening by begging us for more attention. He especially loves to have his tummy rubbed. Now that he’s getting older, he’s becoming a bit stubborn and aggressive. He has bitten my husband a few times. Sometimes, I have to whack him with a rotan.

We know that he is lonely for other monkeys and should have a female for companionship, but what can we do? I have considered sending him to a zoo, but my husband always says no. He says, ‘You don’t what will happen to him there. They might put him to sleep or even feed him to the tigers.’ [In fact, Manja would be euthanized. See main story.]

I feel that God brought us there that night to rescue this monkey. It was fate. I have to take care of him for the rest of his life. I love him very much, but I don’t think people should run out and buy monkeys from pet shops. We can’t even go out as a family because we don’t like to leave him by himself. Keeping a monkey is not something to undertake on a whim. It’s a huge commitment and very hard work.”

Manja, like other captive primates, has been introduced to some bad human habits. He was quite keen to inhale the cigarette smoke blown into his face by one of his regular visitors.

Risky Business

A frightened or angry monkey, like this one I saw being teased in Cameron Highlands by one of her keepers, can be dangerous.

Humans risk catching a number of diseases and infections from monkeys, including hepatitis, herpes-B, salmonella, measles, monkeypox, rabies and tuberculosis.

If that’s not scary enough, how about this? There is evidence that HIV-1, the virus that causes AIDS, developed from two monkey viruses and spread to humans via contact with chimpanzees. The less virulent HIV-2 was apparently transmitted to humans directly from monkeys. Who knows what might cross over next? Is it worth the risk?

A Case of Cruelty

I witnessed a sad case of monkey abuse in my own neighbourhood several years ago. It was my first glimpse of the plight of monkeys in Malaysia. (See my previous post, The Monkey Man.)

An Indonesian man and his family were living as squatters in an abandoned house near my home. The monkey was kept chained to a wooden telephone wire spool, which provided his only shelter. The only other thing near him was a small tree he could climb a little way up into. He was surrounded by garbage and his own waste. I observed both the man and his young son beat the monkey with sticks and threaten him with a parang. Despite all the abuse this monkey had suffered, I was able over time and with great caution to make friends with him. On one very special day, I mimed picking lice from his back, and he returned the favour by rolling up my sleeve and trying to pluck the freckles from my arm. I offered to buy the monkey from the man, but he refused. I also tried to persuade him to treat the monkey more humanely, to no avail. Finally, I reported the case to the Department of Wildlife and National Parks. At that time, like most people, I did not know they would destroy him. Nothing happened then, but later, in response to more complaints from others, the DWNP confiscated the monkey. I assume now that he was euthanized. It breaks my heart.

An additional note: I recently went to a pet shop that specialized in birds and was told, on enquiring, that they could get me a baby macaque, long-tailed (RM 300) or pig-tailed (RM 600), if I placed an order. On my asking if the monkeys were captive-bred, I was told by the owner that, on the contrary, their man chased the mothers in the jungle until they frightened them into dropping their babies. Or worse, I imagine.

Manja, half-asleep in the late afternoon, watches the crows gather in the trees over his head. I wonder if he was envying, or at least contemplating, their freedom.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Is This Your Dog?

I found this dog, whom I call Sparky, in PJ on the evening of the 30th (Sunday). He is a yellow mixed breed, about 15kg, very healthy, neutered. Wearing a collar. He seems adult but young, a year or two old, I think.

If you know this dog -- maybe he is yours? -- please get in touch with me ASAP. I can't keep him and couldn't even have him temporarily at my house (one of my dogs is very fierce), so I took him to the SPCA. They will hold him for 10 days for his owner to claim; after that, he is up for adoption. If you want him, you can 'reserve' him ahead of time, in case his owners don't show up.

Sparky is a bit timid, probably due to being lost, but very sweet and friendly once he trusts you. He played very nicely with my friend's dog. He would be good with children and other dogs, or as a spoiled only 'child'!

I am committed to finding Sparky a good home. If you are interested in him, let me know! Or go straight to the SPCA and ask about Sparky from PJ. Talk to Reve, if possible. (Her name is pronounced "Rev.") I would like to line up a new home for him right away, in case his owners don't claim him.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Pigging Out on Malaysia's Endangered Wildlife

On Oct 2, The Star ran an excellent special feature on the practice of eating endangered and exotic species of wildlife in Malaysia, complete with appalling photographs. Here is a brief excerpt from one of the linked articles:

Restaurants serving exotic dishes can be found in many places in the country.

In one such restaurant in the Klang Valley, the menu included dishes not for the faint-hearted – snake soup, fried squirrel, black pepper serow (mountain goat), turtle soup, stir-fried monitor lizard, stewed crocodile and wild boar curry.... When one of the restaurant workers was asked if they served tiger meat or sun bear paw, she said not for a long time because there was a lack of supplies, apparently due to strict enforcement.

According to Andy Ho (not his real name),...people generally ate exotic food to boost energy and improve health. On his part, he admits, it’s more for the novelty of it....

Since exotic foods are also highly sought after for their aphrodisiac properties, it is not unusual for a group of men to frequent such restaurants. In fact, Ho says, there were usually brothels located near such restaurants for obvious reasons.

And so it goes...the greedy cater to the horny, the ignorant and the thrill-seekers -- I refer to those who want to own exotic pets or display unusual trophies as well as those who want to eat endangered species -- and the animals die.

I took this picture of Nicky at the Malacca Zoo recently. She is amazing. And I love the spikes on her beautiful red collar -- as if she's not plenty macha without them!

The case of Nicky, the Malayan tiger cub recently rescued from being killed and cooked, has focused media and public attention on the issue. (The Star, in fact, is sponsoring Nicky at her new home -- sadly, in permanent captivity -- at The Malacca Zoo. A recent Star story reported the Zoo's plans for breeding Nicky in the future.

Please, Star and other media, continue to cover the issue, keep it in the public eye and help us push the government for stronger action. Otherwise, the day will come, and soon, when the only tigers, rhinos, elephants and other endangered species will be captives, and they will be the lucky ones.

The bushmeat trade is an epidemic in Africa, as well, where our closest primate relatives are often the victims of choice. When you see a gorilla being barbecued, you suddenly question where the line demarcating cannibalism lies. Planet of the Dead Apes is a heart-wrenching brief article about the bushmeat tragedy in Africa. Be warned, the accompanying pictures are nauseating. They were taken by Karl Ammann, an activist, writer and nature photographer who campaigns relentlessly against the bushmeat business. His website is chock-a-block with information about the problem, and a lot more photos, not all of them gruesome.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

STOP! Don't Report Captive Monkeys to Wildlife Dept!

I interviewed several officials of the Dept of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP, aka Perhilitan) in the course of researching an article on captive monkeys recently. What they told me made cringe.

The Director of the DWNP's Law & Enforcement Division, Misliah Mohamed Basir, told me: "If someone doesn't have a license, we will confiscate the monkey and send it to our Rescue Centre at Zoo Melaka."

The veterinarian at Zoo Melaka, Dr. Choon Siew Shean (aka Dr. Sandie), told me: "When they send us a monkey, we euthanize it."

This confirmed the rumors I had been hearing. She was referring to long-tailed macaques. She said that the Zoo did manage to integrate two confiscated pig-tailed macaques into their resident population in the past year. There is no government rescue, rehab or re-release programme, or sanctuary, for long-tailed macaques in Malaysia.

Here's why:
  • They are common and regarded as pests.
  • The DWNP/Zoo has no resources to devote to them.
  • It is nearly impossible to release a formerly captive monkey into the wild. Existing monkey troops will attack it.

Under the circumstances, I would only report a captive monkey to the DWNP if it were being abused to the point that euthanazation might be preferable.

Please DO continue to report captive monkeys to the SPCA at 03-4256-5312, so that Sabrina can monitor their living conditions.

What else can we do? Write/e-mail the DWNP to urge them to stop issuing new licenses for people to keep monkeys as pets or in captivity. Pn. Misliah told me she is in favour of such a ban but that it will take public support to change the law.

Here is the contact information: Pn. Misliah Mohamed Basir, Law & Enforcement Division, Department of Wildlife and National Parks, Km 10, Jalan Cheras, 56100 Kuala Lumpur

Tel: 03-9075-2872

I will try to post a petition as soon as possible, asking the government to prohibit the keeping of captive monkeys as pets. My idea is that monkeys already in captivity should be left as they are, with increased monitoring of their welfare, but that no new licenses should be issued.

Captive monkey

This debonair long-tailed macaque has been a pet since infancy. He struck this pose for me with seeming deliberation. His human 'parents' love him and do their best for him. He gets to bathe as often as he likes, he is properly fed, and he is extremely attached to his 'mother,' who frequently holds and grooms him. Of course, he still suffers all the deprivations and discomforts of being a prisoner: He has no monkey companions, he has no hope of mating, and he has very little freedom of movement; he is probably bored, frustrated and lonely some of the time, and he is definitely exposed to exhaust fumes, occasional teasing by passers-by and, sometimes, physical punishment for 'misbehaving'. However, he can never be returned to the wild and he definitely should NOT be confiscated and euthanized. Given the circumstances, I think this is one of the captive monkeys who should stay where he is.


Monday, October 24, 2005

Pet Store Reform: Can You Teach an Old Dog Seller New Tricks?

Goh family with new puppyThe Goh family and their new puppy accompanied by Tracy Heng (left), one of the Pet Lovers Centre staffers trained to do new owner orientation at Pet Safari.

The Wonderful World of Pets, the pet store at Ikano Power Centre that left a puppy to die without medical attention, has been given a new set of rules to follow by Pet Safari, its landlord. My article about the reforms appeared in Star Weekend on October 22nd.

Pet Safari was unable (or unwilling, due to the expense?) to terminate its lease with WWoP at this time, so they set up this system to keep owner Lewis Tan's operation under tight control. Here is a summary of the reforms:

When a puppy is sold, a designated staffer from Pet Lovers Centre takes charge of the process. The buyers are given vouchers for a health check, grooming discounts and other basic necessities. The staff person accompanies the new owners and the puppy around Pet Safari for an orientation about feeding, handling, training, grooming and health care. The puppy is given a basic health check on the spot, with a voucher for a more extensive health check to be redeemed within three days. If any life-threatening illness or congenital defect is found, the buyer will receive a full refund for the puppy.

Damansara Animal Centre is the excellent vet clinic located in Pet Safari. The clinic's Dr. Amilan and Dr. Chris are making daily inspections of the puppies on display. If there is any doubt about a puppy's health and well-being, they can compel WWoP to remove the puppy. They will also, of course, recommend medical treatment -- but the decision about treatment will still be up to Tan. At least they will be able to prevent the display and sale of ailing puppies.

Dr. Amilan insisted on the clinic's role in the new process, because, as he told me, "We don't want our clinic to be associated with a bad set-up like that. I told Pet Safari we'd leave if they didn't fix the problem and let us monitor the situation."

A lot of the reforms were suggested by Shameem Abdul Rahman, aka Meem (above, with doggy friend). She is Pet Safari's Marketing Communication Manager, and a trained vet nurse. She is also an impassioned animal lover. She pushed to include the Five Freedoms for Dogs in the information pack given to new buyers. Here is Meem's "Bill of Rights" for dogs:
  • Freedom from hunger and thirst – this includes an appropriate diet, not just rice or bread, which are not suitable for dogs, and plenty of fresh, clean water at all times.

  • Freedom from discomfort – a dog needs shelter from the sun and rain, and a comfortable place to sleep.

  • Freedom from illness – this starts with vaccinations and heartworm medication on a proper schedule and includes the right to be taken for treatment at a clinic when necessary.

  • Freedom of movement – a dog needs exercise and activity. He should not be chained up or kept in a cage for more than a short time. A daily walk is important for his mental and physical well-being.

  • Freedom of speech – dogs must be allowed to express themselves. They bark for a reason. You should never have their vocal chords cut. (One of several non-medical operations which Damansara Animal Centre will not perform. Others include ear clipping and tail docking.)

It remains to be seen how the system will pan out. Can you teach an old dog like Tan new tricks? I certainly hope so! Or at least keep him so tightly fenced in with restrictions that he can't wriggle his way through any loopholes.

Categories: ,

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Please Help Captive Monkeys

Captive monkey
This captive monkey has it better than many, with a long chain and access to the lower limbs of some trees, but he is still a prisoner with no freedom of movement, no hope of parole and no monkey companions. We condemn monkeys to life in prison for no crime except being weaker than us.

If you see a monkey being kept as a captive -- especially under bad circumstances (i.e., no shelter, no water available, no companions, signs of physical abuse) -- please report it to the authorities.

Call: Sabrina Yeap, Animal Inspector, SPCA at 03-4256-5312. Be sure to ask for Sabrina and let the staff know you want to report an abuse case; the first time I called, I didn't know to ask for Sabrina and the person who answered the phone told me the SPCA only deals with dog and cat abuse cases -- not true! Sabrina is compiling as much evidence as she can to take to Perhilitan in order to make the case for better treatment of monkeys.

Call: Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan) at 03-9075-2872. Be sure you speak to the Law & Enforcement Division; don't let them shunt you to the Complaints Division, which handles public complaints about animal nuisances. Their mission is only to make sure a monkey or other animal is not being a pest to people. They won't care if a monkey is being kept chained or caged.

In fact, Perhilitan is not against the keeping of captive monkeys, but they require that the keeper have a license (few do) and they are supposed to ensure the monkeys are kept under humane conditions. No-one at Perhilitan has been able to define for me what their standards for humane conditions are, but I know that they will confiscate monkeys in certain cases.

As development encroaches further and further into the monkeys' forest habitat, more people are going to have a chance to catch monkeys. The abuse is only going to increase unless we persuade the government and the public to change their attitude.

Public pressure -- an outcry against the inhumanity of keeping monkeys as captives -- is the only thing that will convince the government and its agency, Perhilitan, to change the way they perceive the issue. Please help the monkeys by reporting every captive you see to the SPCA and Perhilitan.

We need to make it loud and clear: Monkeys are not criminals; they are not pets; they are not "advertising" for your food stall or other business. They are wild animals with the right to live their life in the wild.


Friday, October 07, 2005

Prisoner on the Beach

[Click on picture for larger version]
I took this picture of a pig-tailed macaque (beruk) at a fishing jetty near Port Klang yesterday. He had a companion in a separate cell, a female with only one arm -- apparently a birth defect. Their keeper said he had raised them from babies. As captive monkeys go, they seemed reasonably well-cared for. They were lunching on fresh carrots and mangos when I saw them. The man said he sometimes takes them on leashes to swim in the ocean. He hopes to breed them when they are older, thus creating more captives -- an appalling thought.
Despite the occasional dip in the sea, these monkeys are still prisoners, confined for life, unable to move about freely or bond with other monkeys. (Of course, it's possible the one-armed female would not have survived in the wild.) At this point, it would be crazy to remove them from their keeper, as they have no experience in their natural environment. Very likely, the authorities would simply put them down. The only way to put an end to the plight of captive animals like this would be for the government to prohibit the keeping of wild animals as pets -- and to enforce the prohibition.
Right now, it is possible to get a license from the Department of Wildlife and National Parks to keep monkeys as pets. The authorities are supposed to monitor the conditions under which the monkeys are kept and ensure that they meet certain standards, however, after repeated queries to the Department, I have not been able to discover what those standards are. I reported the case of a monkey being badly kept -- on a short chain, in filth, being beaten. The Department said they investigated and found no problem with the monkey's living conditions (although later, they apparently removed the monkey in response to a complaint from my Malaysian neighbour).
Ultimately, it comes down to human awareness. Wild animals are not appropriate pets.


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Baby long-tailed macaque in Cameron Highlands, Malaysia
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