Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Monkey Business 2

Tuesday September 11, 2007

Making a quick buck

THE problem posed by “urban” monkeys highlights the lack of a management plan, and this has allowed the problem to deteriorate over the last 20 years.

The genus Macaca shares the same problem throughout its range state – one that is created by man.

The lucky ones: Wildlife and National Parks Department deputy director Celescoriano Razond pointing to monkeys that were recently rescued from an orchard in Pontian, Johor.
“The macaque is under threat due to human encroachment upon its habitat. In countries other than Malaysia, efforts are being made, from documenting the extent of the problem to proposing and testing ways in which to minimise it.

“Many people are coming into contact with macaques for the first time and need to be educated on the proper ways to minimise interaction,” wrote Dr Ardith Eudey of the World Conservation Union’s Action Plan for Asian Primates.

Eudey said Hong Kong and Singapore have embarked on positive educational and control programmes. Malaysia, he added, has the economic resources to initiate a constructive programme rather than resort to destructive actions.

He has invited Malaysia to participate in the next Congress of the International Primatological Society to be held in Edinburgh in August 2008, when the pest problem posed by macaques will be examined in detail.

Critics are not convinced that rounding up macaques in urban areas is a long-term solution as the fundamental problem of habitat loss would remain unresolved. Take the case of Barbados. Despite trapping and exporting 10,000 vervet monkeys for research over 14 years, crop raiding has not been reduced and the monkey population remains stable due to high breeding rates.

Some think it is a ruse to obtain wild specimens, which are preferred for research purposes. Eudey pointed out that “urban” monkeys are not desirable as they have been in contact with humans.

“A country such as the United States wants clean monkeys, meaning captivebred, for research purposes,” he said. Former Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) director-general Mohd Khan Momin Khan said it was a misconception that there was a demand for macaques caught from urban areas.

“Urban monkeys are known to have tuberculosis and assorted intestinal diseases.

They do not make good test subjects and are not appealing to exotic food importers. Eventually, senseless poaching of wild monkeys will ensue to fill the demands of importers,” he warned.

Mohd Khan, who helmed Perhilitan between 1972 and 1992 and was instrumental in getting the 1984 trade ban, said the decision to legalise export has undermined the hard work of primate conservation groups.

“India and Bangladesh are maintaining the ban. Only the Philippines and Indonesia are exporting captive-born monkeys following strict international guidelines. Malaysia will be the only country to drop out of this international pact and become a monkey exporter,” he said.

Exploitation of wild population

A source said with a price tag of RM250 per macaque, indiscriminate hunting will rule. He claimed that Perhilitan had never embarked on a thorough sterilisation programme.

As a short-term measure, he suggested a combination of culling and sterilisation to contain the problem in high conflict areas.

Although Perhilitan is drafting guidelines on the capture and export of the longtailed macaque, many doubt that it will have sufficient resources to monitor the hunt.

Conservationists and animal rights activist prefer culling to reduce the number of long-tailed macaques, saying it was a more humane solution than trading the monkeys for use as food or medical testing.

They fear that profit may motivate the decision to allow export of the animal.

“The very fact that the Malaysian government has ruled out culling suggests that there may be financial motivation involved.

It also looks like the government is attempting to create an export market,” said Eudey.

Mohd Khan questioned the assertion by the authorities that “it is better to export than to cull”.

“Better for whom?” he asked. “Follow the money trail and trace who the benefactors are.”

Last week, Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Datuk Seri Azmi Khalid candidly told participants at a climate change workshop that he had been approached by “some bright people who saw that money could be made from exporting monkeys”.

Sources said the proposal to export monkeys came up prior to the retirement of Perhilitan director-general, Datuk Musa Nordin, last October. In a telephone interview, Musa said he was “indirectly involved” in the trade but declined to comment when asked if he had teamed up with a wildlife trader.

When pressed further, he said: “Go talk to Perhilitan. They’re the one making the policy. I’ve retired.”

Sources reveal 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. Each shipment will carry between 2,000 and 2,500 specimens.

The business plan lists the likely buyers as two laboratories and one breeding centre in China. One of the laboratories is Kunming Primate Research Centre, which is affiliated to the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The centre was set up in 2005 as a research base for experiments against infectious diseases and bio-terrorism. – By Hilary Chiew and S.S. Yoga

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