Unmasked: Topeng monyet may be banned in Jakarta, but dangerous monkey pet trade persists

Jakarta Animal Aid Network (JAAN) co-founder Femke den Haas and her son Rio rescuing a long-tailed macaque in Jakarta on November 4, 2018. The macaque is now one of dozens of monkeys rescued and under rehabilitation by the animal welfare group. Photo: Instagram/@jakartaanimalaidnetwork
Jakarta Animal Aid Network (JAAN) co-founder Femke den Haas and her son Rio rescuing a long-tailed macaque in Jakarta on November 4, 2018. The macaque is now one of dozens of monkeys rescued and under rehabilitation by the animal welfare group. Photo: Instagram/@jakartaanimalaidnetwork

On Sunday, Nov. 4, a long-tailed macaque was found by rescuers hanging by a short chain tightly tied around her waist connected to the top of a corrugated fence in West Jakarta.

The Jakarta Animal Aid Network (JAAN), one of the country’s most prominent animal welfare groups, was tipped off about the macaque’s plight by members of the public. JAAN’s co-founder and wildlife manager Femke den Haas was among those who went to rescue the tiny creature.

“It’s the most horrid way to keep any living being. She was tied up to a steel plate, a very short chain, and she couldn’t do anything, just hang down [by the waist]. She couldn’t even sit,” Femke told Coconuts.

Femke said three men — who she described as the local preman (Indonesian slang for street thugs) — approached her and her team and claimed that they were taking care of the macaque. They initially objected to letting them rescue the creature, but soon stepped aside after Femke threatened to report them to the authorities.

They also warned her that the macaque was aggressive, but Femke, an experienced handler, carefully removed the monkey from her chain, after which she became calm in Femke’s hands.

 

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The macaque’s rescuers then named her Slipi, after the sub-district of West Jakarta she was found in.

A long way home for Slipi and Indonesia’s pet monkeys

In 2013, then-Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo passed a regional bylaw banning topeng monyet — macaques that are forced to dance by street buskers for the amusement of crowds — after years of protests by animal activists.

It was one of JAAN’s biggest legal victories to date, as they had heavily campaigned for a ban on the cruel practice since 2009. By the time the bylaw was passed, JAAN was also closely involved with its enforcement.

But that ban has not been extended to the pet trade in macaques like Slipi, which are not included on Indonesia’s list of protected wildlife. Animal activists like those in JAAN warn that the lack of regulation is not only bad in terms animal rights, it also presents a danger to human welfare.

“The monkey trade in Indonesia is not controlled and the Forestry Department is not taking action because it’s of less concern to them. But the monkey pet trade should be a huge concern to everybody, not just because of ethical reasons and cruelty, but also because they can enter urban areas and spread diseases,” Femke said.


No matter how cute they may look, monkeys simply aren’t suitable pets for humans and it is always an act of cruelty to keep them as such.


Femke said it’s very common for people to buy infant monkeys as pets, only to discard them when they’re three- or four-years-old and no longer cute or easy to manage.

“We have reports of monkeys attacking people weekly, mostly in Java. These are ex-pet monkeys that people dump because people can’t handle them anymore,” she said.

It’s only logical that these monkeys become aggressive after suffering abuse at the hands of humans. When JAAN found Slipi, for example, the chain around her waist was so tight that they have reason to believe she had been chained from a young age and then she had already outgrown it. While she had no open wounds when rescued, Slipi’s waist did have some bruising.

Slipi has since been placed under quarantine by JAAN to ensure she does not have any diseases like tuberculosis before she joins the welfare group’s other rescued monkeys at an undisclosed rehabilitation center near the city of Bandung, West Java.

JAAN is currently rehabilitating 63 monkeys in the center and it takes at least two years for each monkey to be rehabilitated enough to be released into the wild. Even when they’re ready, JAAN and the Forestry Department have to closely monitor the monkeys as they acclimatize to their new surroundings — a slow process that can take at least a couple of months.

Unmasking the monkeys

After the topeng monyet ban, the street buskers of Jakarta were compensated by the local government to give up their pet monkeys. Many of those monkeys have been rehabilitated by groups like JAAN or the government and then released into the wild.

But many buskers refused to give up their source of income, and instead simply traveled to Jakarta’s neighboring cities. One city that has seen a surge of topeng monyet in recent years is Bandung, and many of the monkeys that are in JAAN’s care now were rescued from the city.

Following their success in Jakarta, JAAN is now pushing the government to implement a nationwide topeng monyet ban by 2020, starting with a pilot project in Bandung. Under the campaign, local authorities will be tasked with rescuing topeng monyet monkeys and rehabilitating them before returning them to the wild.

The signs that other regions are catching on are there: In addition to West Java, the Nature Conservation Agency of East Java in May also released a circular banning topeng monyet in the province, while animal welfare groups in the Central Java city of Yogyakarta — which has also seen a surge in topeng monyet in recent years — have been pressuring the local government to enact a similar ban.

However successful the campaign will be, it likely won’t completely eradicate all topeng monyet in the country. In Jakarta, JAAN says it has rescued two topeng monyet monkeys this year. Though a far cry from the pre-ban days, there are still some buskers who dare to exploit monkeys in the capital, and they have proven hard to catch.

Femke says if the public spots monkeys being exploited for street entertainment, they can seek the help of authorities, such as police or security guards, to detain or follow the buskers while animal groups or local wildlife officials are contacted to rescue the animal. Alternatively, the public can help by pretending to ask for the busker’s phone number so they can hire them for a child’s birthday party, then forwarding that number to the authorities to set up a rescue.

Monkey free, monkey do

The battle against topeng monyet is unfortunately just one aspect of the overarching problem that is the monkey trade — in which some species are protected under the country’s wildlife laws while others, like Slipi, aren’t.

No matter how cute they may look, monkeys simply aren’t suitable pets for humans and it is always an act of cruelty to keep them as such. It’s in the nation’s best interest for the government to expand its legal protection to wild animals such as macaques that may not be in danger of extinction but are still terribly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

Although officials here already ignore too many laws related to animal welfare, without more wide-ranging protections, the culture of casual cruelty towards our country’s creatures will just continue.

Also Read: Abandoned: Indonesia’s animal activists lack legal backing to stop cruelty towards critters

Please consider helping JAAN to rehabilitate Slipi and other rescued animals by donating to their program. You can learn about their program on their Instagram page here.

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