Malaysia plans to export street macaques to labs & live markets

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2007:

 
KUALA LUMPUR–Malaysian natural resources and environment
minister Seri Azmi Khalid at a September 5, 2007 press conference
asserted that the government had not lifted a 23-year-old ban on
exporting long-tailed macaques, but admitted that plans are
proceeding to export macaques captured in cities to laboratories and
Chinese live markets.
“I did not use the word ‘lift.’ The media quoted me wrongly,” Seri
Azmi Khalid claimed, according to Loh Foon Fong of the Malaysia Star.
Bernama, the Malaysian National News Agency, reported on
August 17, 2007 that “Malaysia has lifted the ban on the export of
long-tailed macaques.”
“The cabinet has decided to lift the ban because we want to
reduce the number of long-tailed monkeys in urban areas. The lifting
of the ban is only for peninsular Malaysia and does not cover Sabah
and Sarawak,” Seri Azmi Khalid was quoted as saying.
Reporting about the same speech, Elizabeth John of the New
Straits Times wrote that Seri Azmi Khalid said the export ban had
been “lifted.”


Seri Azmi Khalid asserted that 258,406 long-tailed macaques inhabit
urban areas in peninsular Malaysia, while 483,747 remain in forests.
“Follow the money trail and trace who the benefactors are,”
suggested Mohd Khan Momin Khan, former director-general of the
Malaysian Wildlife and National Parks Department. Heading the
department, called Perhilitan, from 1972 to 1992, Mohd Khan Momin
Khan “was instrumental in getting the 1984 trade ban,” wrote Hilary
Chew of the Malaysia Star.
Continued Chew, writing with S.S. Yoga of the Star, “Last
week, 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.'”
Wrote Chew and Yoga, “Sources said the proposal to export
monkeys came prior to the retirement of Perhilitan director-general
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, Musa said ‘Go talk to Perhilitan. They’re the one making
the policy. I’m retired.'”
“Sources reveal,” Chew and Yoga added, “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
center in China. One of the laboratories is the Kunming Primate
Research Centre, which is affiliated with the Chinese Academy of
Sciences. The center was set up in 2005 as a research base for
experiments against infectious diseases and bio-terrorism.”
Ardith Eudey, author of the World Conservation Union’s
Action Plan for Asian Primates, warned that the plan to capture
urban macaques could cover for bootlegging macaques out of the wild.
“It looks like the government is attempting to create an
export market,” Eudey said,
“Eudey pointed out that urban monkeys are not desirable, as
they have been in contact with humans,” wrote Chew. “A country such
as the U.S. wants clean monkeys for research purposes, meaning
captive bred, Eudey said.”
Mohd Khan Momin Khan agreed that it is “a misconception that there is
a demand for macaques caught from urban areas,” Chew continued,
since “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,” either.
“Eventually, senseless poaching of wild monkeys will ensue
to fill the demands of importers,” Mohd Khan Momin Khan warned.
“Allowing urban monkeys to be hunted almost certainly will
lead to trapping of monkeys in the jungle,” affirmed Malaysian
Animal Rights & Welfare Society president N. Surendran, questioning
whether Perhilitan even has the capability to monitor macaque
captures, or to distinguish urban-caught macaques from those trapped
in the forest.
Surendran and others formed the Malaysian Animal Rights &
Welfare Society as a coalition opposed to the macaque exports.
Coalition members include the SPCA Selangor, Malaysian Animal
Assisted Therapy for the Disabled Association, Parti Keadilan
Rakyat, and the Malaysian Association for Responsible Pet Ownership.
The coalition “lodged a police report against Seri Azmi
Khalid and [wildlife] ministry officials for violating Section 92(f)
of the Protection of Wildlife Act 1972” in rescinding the macaque
export ban, Chew wrote.
Wrote Surendran in a Malaysia Star guest column, “No country
can call itself civilized when it ill-treats its wildlife in so cruel
a manner. We call upon Khalid to immediately restore the ban on
trade of macaques; halt all pending macaque shipments overseas;
release all macaques currently in captivity and awaiting transport;
and consult with animal welfare groups and experts to humanely
respond to macaque problems.”
“In a way, this is a success story,” the Malaysia Star
editorialized. “The peninsular population of long-tailed macaques
declined by 25% between 1957 and 1975, when their trade was
unregulated.” While the macaque population recovered, the Malaysia
Star recounted, “Urban and industrial development pushed back the
forest. Without a ‘countryside’ to speak of, there are few if any
buffers between forest and human habitat” in many areas, “which has
allowed wild monkeys freely to invade urban areas. They are famously
adaptable animals, at home everywhere from the seashore to
mountaintops. Urban environments are positively appealing to them,
with virtually unlimited access to abundant food.
“They are at best pests and at worst menaces,” the Malaysia
Star asserted. “Trapping them for relocation has been tried, but
was found to have deleterious effects on the ecosystems where they
are released. Expatriated urban macaques clash with forest-domiciled
troupes over territory,” with the urban monkeys tending to prevail
because they tend to be larger and more aggressive. Decriminalizing
the export of macaques as exotic cuisine has two dubious advantages,”
the Star suggested. “The trade is nothing new, having persisted
illegally during the 30 years of the ban; and it can make money.”
A Perhilitan study conducted between March and June 2007
looked at the possible effects of exporting urban macaques for five
years at rates ranging from 20% of the population per year to more
than 90%. At 20%, the macaque population would remain stable and
might even grow. At 90%, if such a high capture rate could be
achieved, only 31 monkeys would remain in urban areas.
Macaque experts did not endorse the Perhilitan
recommendations. “If the root of the problem is people feeding the
macaques, teaching them that humans equals food, then more should
be done to educate the public,” Chris R. Shepherd of the World
Wildlife Fund subsidiary Traffic Southeast Asia told John of the New
Straits Times.
Eudey recommended “positive educational and control
programs,” citing the examples of Hong Kong and Singapore, and
invited Malaysia to participate in the next Congress of the
International Primatological Society, at Edinburgh. Scotland, in
August 2008, “when the pest problem posed by macaques will be
examined in detail.”
In Barbados, Eudey added, “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,” as the
wary survivors of capture efforts continue breeding up to the
carrying capacity of the habitat.
“The catch phrase ‘monkey menace’ is common now in many urban areas,
from New Delhi to Kuala Lumpur,” observed primatologist Govindasamy
Agoramoorthy, of Tajen University in Taiwan. “It’s easy to blame
the monkeys for creating havoc in urban areas. But are the monkeys
really to be blamed? With ever shrinking natural forest and less
availability of natural food sources, the monkeys are adapting to
the unique human creations of concrete jungle and palm plantation.”
Unmentioned amid the Malaysian macaque debate is that in
Malaysia, as elsewhere throughout Asia, monkeys are also taking
advantage of steeply declining street dog populations to extend their
range–as ANIMAL PEOPLE pointed out in January/February 2002 and June
2007 cover features.

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