Behaviour modification proposed as solution to macaque problem

Programme would address the ‘root of the problem’, says animal welfare group ACRES
Siau Ming En, Today Online, 9 Oct 13;

SINGAPORE — To resolve the ongoing human-macaque conflict here, the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES) has proposed a method to manage the monkeys without having to cull them.

Known as “behavioural modification”, ACRES said this programme would address the “root of the problem” and offer a “long-term” solution to it. “The concept of the behavioural modification is really getting the macaques to understand where their boundaries are. At this point, we humans have invaded their territory, so we (have to) now try to show them, by using us humans as obstacles, that they can’t cross beyond us,” said ACRES Chief Executive Louis Ng yesterday at the release of a rescued macaque back into the wild.

The organisation’s new macaque rescue team — which has only two full-time staff — is trained to conduct the behavioural modification programme. Last month, it responded to about 30 macaque-related calls through ACRES’ 24-hour Wildlife Rescue Hotline.

Between January and August this year, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) received about 1,460 instances of monkey-related feedback, a nearly 60-per-cent increase from last year’s figures. Noting that most of the feedback was from residents near the Central Catchment and Bukit Timah Nature Reserves, the AVA said over a hundred of those cases were related to “monkey aggression”.

Monkeys can become aggressive when in search of food and may snatch belongings, chase pedestrians, or injure children, the elderly or pets.

Opinions among residents towards the macaques in Lakeview Estate along Upper Thomson have been divided. “In a way, the management is stuck in a predicament because some residents insist that we release the monkeys when we catch them, (while) others want us to increase the number of catches we make,” said Mr Albert Har, Estate Manager of Lakeview Management.

When it comes to the culling of macaques, the AVA said humane euthanasia was its “last resort”, and added that the release of macaques into the forests would not resolve issues of monkey aggression, as those accustomed to human food would continue to venture out of the forests. “Indiscriminate release of aggressive/nuisance-causing wildlife back into the environment merely transfers the problem from one estate to the next,” said the AVA.

The authority said it has received ACRES’ proposal and will be studying its “feasibility and effectiveness”.

In July, a Sunday Times report said almost 360 macaques were killed by the AVA in the first half of this year — an estimated 20 per cent of the total macaque population in Singapore.

No monkeying around with Acres rescue team
It seeks to help residents keep macaques away without culling them
David Ee, Straits Times, AsiaOne 9 Oct 13;

HAVING monkey trouble but would rather not put the furry creatures at risk of being culled? Animal group Acres has an answer with its new Macaque Rescue Team.

Formed last month, the team of two will arrive within three hours after a call is made to the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society's 24-hour Wildlife Rescue Hotline on 9783-7782.

If the macaque has already entered the home, the team will help shoo it away. But more importantly, the Acres staff hope to educate home owners on how to monkey- proof their residences. Said one half of the rescue team, former zookeeper See Han Sern, 34: "Monkeys are opportunistic by nature. They will go around their entire territory to forage for food."

Keeping food out of sight, closing windows and removing fruiting plants would remove the reasons for monkeys to come to an area, he said. His team has so far responded to 30 calls from homes in areas such as Bukit Timah and Upper Thomson, which are close to forested areas.

In the first half of this year, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority culled a fifth of the estimated 1,800 macaques found here, in response to a growing number of monkey-related incidents. Between January and August this year, it received 1,460 complaints, compared with 920 last year and 730 in 2011.

"Culling does not solve the issue," said Mr Louis Ng, executive director of Acres, which yesterday released into the wild at MacRitchie Reservoir an injured macaque it had rescued and rehabilitated - a local first, according to the animal group. "The problem is not the number of macaques but, rather, the easily available food sources in residential areas."

He highlighted how Gibraltar, near Spain, stopped culling Barbary macaques in favour of measures such as making rubbish bins harder for monkeys to open.

Acres hopes to impress on residents that their actions can determine whether monkeys encroach on their homes. It also plans to condition monkeys to stay away from homes, by consistently herding them away. But this could take months to do, admitted Mr Ng, who hopes to convince people that there are better ways than culling to deal with the problem.

"Half of the residents think: Since the Government is culling, it must be the best solution. It will take time to change mindsets," he said. "We're not here to, say, protect the monkeys more than the people. Both parties must be protected."