Is monkey trapping the best solution?

Straits Times Forum 29 May 13;

WE READ with alarm two recent reports ("AVA moves to control monkey problem", April 29; and "AVA explains monkey trapping video"; last Wednesday) about the capture and removal of macaques from Bukit Timah.

We would like to ask:

- Why were the macaques being trapped? Was it for ecological reasons and/or because of threats to human safety? If it was the latter, what risk assessment criteria were used?

- What is the strategy for monkey capture? Are troops studied carefully before specific monkeys are targeted? Are there numerical targets for the trapping?

- How closely were wildlife experts, in particular, those who specialise in primate biology, consulted prior to the implementation of the monkey-trapping programme? How frequently do the contractors entrusted with the monkey capture seek the advice of experts?

A macaque-trapping exercise that is not based on solid data, built on a sound knowledge of macaque behaviour and conducted with inputs from experts is difficult to justify.

Based on reports, the monkey-trapping strategy appears ecologically unsound, largely avoidable and futile. At the end of these rounds of trapping, residents have no more understanding of the macaques than they did before the trapping started.

More importantly, the ecosystem would have lost seed dispersers who play an important role in forest regeneration, and macaque troops may be destabilised (which may give rise to other behavioural problems among the remaining macaques).

The monkey incursions are likely to continue and the trapping cycle repeated, with no one except perhaps the monkey-removal contractors profiting from these episodes.

Wildlife live in forests. When housing is built next to forested areas, insects, birds, lizards and macaques come with the territory.

Understanding how to minimise the conflict between residents and wildlife - from building and buffer area design, to reaching out to residents prior to and during occupation, and seeking holistic solutions - would be more consistent with the rational, systematic and tolerant approach for which Singapore is famed.

One needs to look no further than our airport to see an excellent example of how to manage human-wildlife interaction ("Changi keeps fowl-ups to a minimum"; May 20).

Changi Airport works with stakeholders and wildlife experts to minimise the chances of birds compromising aircraft safety. Killing birds is not their first course of action. They employ a scientifically sound and humane strategy that protects people, planes and birds.

Perhaps this approach could be a model for managing and raising our understanding of wildlife in other areas.

Tay Kae Fong
President, Jane Goodall Institute (Singapore)