Jakarta and other Indonesian cities move against monkey acts

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  October 2013: (Actually published on November 20,  2013.)

JAKARTA––It’s curtains for street corner monkey acts in northwestern Java,  hopes Jakarta Animal Aid Network founder Femke Den Haas.  Locally called topang monyet,  meaning “masked monkeys,”  the acts have proliferated over the past decade,  becoming a JAAN campaign target in 2009. Crackdowns ordered by Jakarta governor Joko Widodo and Surakarta mayor F.X. Hadi Rudyatmo in late October and early November 2013 sent some monkey handlers into hiding.  Others collected compensation of about $90 per monkey surrendered to wildlife officials and hoped that official pledges of job training for former handlers would be fulfilled. “Tied to leashes and forced to wear doll masks and beg for money as they totter along on their hind legs,  the performing monkeys have long been a common sight in Jakarta,”  reported the South China Morning Post.  “But in recent years authorities and animal-rights groups have been stepping up efforts to crack down on the practice. Widodo has now announced a plan to get the animals off the streets by 2014.” Jakarta code enforcement officers during the last week of October 2013 impounded 22 monkeys.  The monkeys were to be quarantined by the Jakarta Marine & Agriculture Agency,  preliminary to transfer to the Ragunan Zoo in South Jakarta. The monkeys “were stressed.  Some tried to attack and some recoiled when we approached them,”  city veterinarian Valentina Aswindrastuti told the South China Morning Post.  “They also had swollen gums and rotten teeth.” Some handlers contended that the monkeys had cost them as much as $135 apiece,   far less than the offered compensation,  but Jakarta Public Order Agency chief Ipih Ruyani said topang monyet monkeys actually sell for $20 to $30. “We estimate that there are 60 exploited monkeys in the capital,  mostly in North and East Jakarta,” Ipih Ruyani told Sita W. Dewi of the Jakarta Post. JAAN had projected that there might be from 200 to 350 topang monyet monkeys in Jakarta,  but many may have been abruptly hustled away to other cities. But the two nearest cities of size,  Surakarta and Bandang,  also moved against topang monyet. The Surakarta Public Order Agency did not immediately impound any monkeys,  reported Kusumasari Ayuningtyas of the Jakarta Post,  but warned monkey handlers that their animals might be impounded for violations of municipal bans on topang monyet. Afterward,  wrote  Kusumasari Ayuningtyas,  “no topeng monyet handlers were seen operating on the city’s streets.  Surakarta Mayor FX Hadi Rudyatmo said his administration was ready to help the handlers if the topeng monyet shows were their only source of income.” “We will find solutions to help them earn a living,”  the mayor said.  “The most important thing is they no longer torture animals.” Monkeys impounded in Surakarta were to be transferred to the Taru Jurug Animal Park. JAAN began working to end topang monyet,  according to the JAAN web site,  after learning that  “The increase in the use of dancing monkeys in Jakarta’ streets could be blamed on three big ‘monkey bosses’ who rent out the monkeys to street children.  The children have to pay per day an amount to the boss,  and any money they make above this amount is for them.  The children fall into debt with the bosses and therefore after a short while are forced to ‘work for free.’  The monkeys are kept under extreme cruel conditions,  chained in small dark cages,”  JAAN continued,  “and the training of the monkeys,  which we witnessed and documented,  is based on pain and hunger.” After JAAN educated Jakarta area police and other government officials about existing legislation that could be used against topang monyet,   the authorities in late 2011 impounded 40 monkeys from South Jakarta,  who were turned over to JAAN.  The monkey handlers,  however,  were only “given a warning and set free,”  JAAN recalled. Once in care of JAAN,  “The confiscated monkeys are socialized––a hard and long process,  because we deal with very badly traumatized animals.  Twenty percent of all the monkeys we confiscated and cared for proved to be positive to tuberculosis and even hepatitis and leptospirosis were found in two individuals.” Those findings were echoed after the October 2013 monkey impoundments––and the diseases had apparently been passed back and forth between the infected monkeys and some of their handlers. Elaborated the Jakarta Post,  “The Jakarta Health Agency in early November 2013 found eight people with symptoms of tuberculosis after checking 125 residents of South Cipinang Besar,  East Jakarta,  who had lived with or close to pet monkeys. Said health agency chief Dien Emmawati, “We set up a health check post here because some of the monkeys that have been caught in this area by the city administration are suffering not only from TB,  but also from hepatitis and worm disease.” JAAN is currently raising funds to buy an island where confiscated monkeys could  be returned to the wild without risk of passing infectious diseases to either humans or other wildlife. The crackdown on topang monyet has so far not spread even to southern Java,  let alone to other islands,  but Bali Animal Welfare Association founder Janice Girardi expressed hope that it will,  citing the  “terrible conditions in which monkeys are kept at Bali’s animal markets.  These markets are animal torture chambers,”  Girardi alleged. “BAWA recently spent three days visiting animal markets at Denpasar,  Beringkit and elsewhere.  We found monkeys,  many of whom are sacred to Balinese Hindus,  crowded in small cages,  chained on impossibly short leads,  undernourished,  diseased,  injured and obviously sad and distressed.  Bali has its own shameful share of performing monkeys and it’s likely they are sold from these markets.”  Girardi said. ––Merritt Clifton

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