Much-abused Macaques May Soon Face Extinction
An Animal Rights Article from


The Jakarta Post
May 2009

They entertain children, feed those with unusual appetites and sacrifice their freedom for the sake of science.

Humans are indebted to the long-tailed macaques, possibly familiar to locals as street entertainment topeng monyet, who are now endangered due to unmonitored exploitation.

A recent investigation by UK-based pro-animal group, British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV), has raised concerns of the exploitation of Macaca fascicularis, as exports of the animal have not been in line with international trade regulations.

This photo was taken in a holding pen for baby macaques at the Oregon Regional Primate Research Center. We can easily see that they are lovingly comforting one another, but for the whole group to be doing this is a strong indication that they are all under severe emotional stress.

The BUAV report stated while the long-tailed macaques were not necessarily threatened with extinction, they could soon be at risk unless their export was more strictly regulated.

The trade of the animal is regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), which Indonesia ratified in 1978.

CITES bans the international trade of wild-caught macaques and only allows those that have been captive-bred to be sold.

BUAV accused Indonesia of exporting wild-caught macaques under the guise of captive breeding.

The export of macaques is lucrative and the country has exported a total of 24,811 macaques worldwide between 1997 and 2006.

Indonesia is the United States' third largest supplier, after the Philippines and Mauritius.

Most animals end up in laboratories, as they are among the five species of Macaca suitable for biomedical research test subjects.

Between 3,000 and 4,000 long-tailed macaques are exported from Indonesia every year. According to data obtained from CITES, 6,078 long-tailed macaques were exported in 2005 and 2006 alone.

The country exported 4,007 captive-bred long-tailed macaques last year, data from the Forestry Ministry's directorate of biodiversity conservation revealed.

But are the so-called captive-bred macaques actually bred?

Captive breeding in Indonesia can involve setting free wild-caught long-tailed macaques on remote islands. One of the most famous is Tinjil Island in Banten, where the captive breeding of long-tailed macaques started in 1988, with 520 animals brought to the island from the wild. BUAV argued such breeding could not be categorized as captive breeding as the monkeys roam free and are intertwined in a living ecosystem.

The Forestry Ministry's director general for forest protection and nature conservation, Darori said it was debatable whether captive breeding systems, such as that on Tinjil Island, violated CITES regulations.

Setting debates aside, the increasing quota for captured monkeys is also concerning environmentalists.

NGO ProFauna reported the number of captured long-tailed macaques had continuously increased from 2,000 in 2006 to 4,100 in 2007 and 5,100 in 2008.

According to the Schmutzer Primate Center, there was no valid data on the current population of long-tailed macaques.

Meanwhile, the BUAV investigation revealed population surveys of the monkeys by the Indonesian Institute of Science (LIPI) were conducted by third parties and based on invalid extrapolation methods. The quota for captured monkeys is based on these population surveys.

Such continuously increasing quotas also raised concerns of captive breeding centers becoming a pool for wild-caught macaques later on sold as bred ones.

"Captive breeding centers in Indonesia have always been a failure as they always need a new supply of wild-caught macaques," ProFauna activist Asep R. Purnama said.

In 2008 alone, the Forestry Ministry allocated 2,000 wild-caught macaques to captive breeding centers. The monkeys were caught in North Sumatra, Riau, Jambi, Bali and Central Kalimantan.

Without detailed and accurate measures of macaques' population and a strict monitoring on captive breeding centers, Indonesia could risk completely eradicating the species, Asep added.

For pro-animal activists, it was not only the numbers that mattered, but also how the animals would be treated once their fate as an internationally traded species was decided.

Macaques are subjected to mental and physical abuse, particularly during capture and during transportation between breeding centers.

Hunters usually capture infant macaques after chasing away their mothers with rifle shots.

Arriving safe and uninjured in the breeding centers does not guarantee a comfortable life for the macaques. They are often cramped in cages to be later on transported in small wooden crates. If they are meant for export, they will be kept in the cages for a long time.

For those destined to be test subjects in research laboratories, the suffering continues as medicines are tested on them. Sometimes the primates are intentionally hurt during behavioral observations.

As they are the closest known primates to humans, they are used extensively in medical experiments, particularly those connected with neuroscience.

Since the human race is obviously able to benefit from nature, we should bear in mind that making the most of nature should not involve exploiting it.

For more information, visit ProFauna International and British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV).

Return to Animal Rights Articles