Malaysia: ‘Our monkeys are at risk’

PATRICK LEE The Star 6 Jan 16;

PETALING JAYA: They are in our cities and in our jungles, on the trees, and, telephone and power lines.

Environmentalists say, however, there is not much else most can relate about Malaysia’s primates, as the Year of the Monkey swings in this Chinese New Year.

“You have the crab-eating macaque (kera). They are everywhere.

“And then you have the extremely charismatic and endangered great ape, the orang utan,” WWF-Malaysia executive director Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma told The Star.

He said Malaysia had many primates from the lar gibbon to the once-thought extinct stump-tailed macaque, found in parts of Asia but here only in northern Malaysia.

“Yet mostly foreigners and some locals, are interested in them,” added Dr Dionysius.

“They are all charismatic in their own way ... (but) you don’t find groups of people looking for primates,” he said.

The IUCN Red List, an international inventory of animal types, showed 21 primates listed in Malaysia.

Slow lorises and tarsiers made this list too, though monkeys, apes and others made up 17 of those present.

Seven of the 17, including the siamang, are endangered today.

Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Malaysia director Dr Melvin Gumal said many primates here were at risk from hunting and land clearing.

Some gibbons, he said, were “territorial” and that it was not so simple for them to move when their trees were chopped down.

“So when the land they’re on is converted, they lose out,” he said.

He said while it was good for primates to have large protected areas to live in, enforcement was most important of all.

“It’s one thing to say please do not hunt. It’s a different thing to be on the ground,” said Gumal.

With this in mind, he said some, like orang utans, bred slowly, with each female giving birth to only three or four young in their lives.

The Natural Resources and Environment Ministry previously said it would commit to retaining 50% of forest cover and ensure jungles were not fragmented.

Dr Dionysius said it was good to have government policy on keeping forests here intact, but efforts must be taken to ensure there were animals, especially primates there.

“How do primates fare in remaining forests? Research institutions and universities must take this up.

“Otherwise we have forests, but we don’t know about the primates (in them),” he said.

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