Monkey mayhem at MacRitchie Reservoir

Monkey feeders to blame, says NParks
15 primates grabbed food from picnicking mum and toddler
Tracy Sua, Straits Times 29 Dec 07;

FINES could be upped for those who feed monkeys, in the wake of a recent incident where a horde of 15 primates grabbed food from a pregnant woman and her toddler at MacRitchie Reservoir Park.

The National Parks Board (NParks), which caught 151 people red-handed and fined them this year, could also increase its raids by roping in security companies to nab offenders, it said.

Such people are the prime reason monkeys get so used to humans that they approach, expecting to be fed, said assistant director, Central Nature Reserve, Ms Sharon Chan.

In the latest incident on Dec 15, housewife Petrina Chan and her 19-month-old daughter Carys were sitting at a gazebo in the park that morning when Mrs Chan pulled out a white styrofoam box of pancakes from her bag.

The long-tailed macaques, about 30m away, charged.

'They snatched at the box and tore a hole in it,' said Mrs Chan, 35, who was three months pregnant.

Undaunted by her efforts to shoo them away, they jumped on her and snatched a packet of drinks and tissues from her bag.

They retreated only when two passers-by, a jogger in his 40s and a girl in her teens, helped hide the food in a baby carrier and fended them off.

There have been at least four reports of people injured by monkeys in Singapore since 1991.

But the problem would not exist if people stopped feeding them, said NParks' Ms Chan.

'By now, the monkeys have lost their fear of people, associate vehicles with getting fed, and they know plastic bags often contain food.

'It has come to the stage where they expect food, so if they don't get it, they may approach and snatch a bag.'

So, visitors to parks and reservoirs where monkeys live should keep their distance, not eat in front of monkeys, and put away all food in containers or backpacks. If approached, they should keep calm and try to walk away, she advised.

Regular parkgoers like Mr Alvin Lee, 33, said he has occasionally eaten snacks at the reservoir, but is careful to keep food out of sight when there are monkeys around.

'They have always ignored me,' said the engineer.

NParks staff conduct regular raids or patrols to catch monkey feeders, as well as monitor areas along Upper Thomson Road with security cameras installed last year.

It has ensured that dustbins in the nature reserves are monkey-proof with lids that close automatically. Numerous signs warn parkgoers against feeding the primates, and pamphlets are given out to visitors as well.

'Despite these measures, the problem persists because some members of the public continue to feed the monkeys,' said Ms Chan.

In May, NParks increased fines for feeding monkeys from $200 to $250. Five people who did not pay up and were taken to court had to pay up to $2,000.

'We are looking into raising composition fines further and increasing raids on monkey feeders with the assistance of security companies to supplement our staff's efforts.'

Monkeys which are too aggressive are trapped and culled.

Between January and September, 164 monkeys were culled, up from the 138 last year.

However, added Ms Chan: 'We are the ones encroaching on the monkeys' homes. We should not be looking at getting rid of them just because of a problem we ourselves have caused.

'If we just culled all the monkeys, we would be robbing people of a precious opportunity to see some of Singapore's original citizens in action.'

To report monkey feeders, the public can call NParks' 24-hour hotline on 1800-471-7300.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHANG AI-LIEN

RELATED LINKS

Please do not feed the monkeys

more about the harm caused by feeding monkeys, on the wildsingapore website

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