SINGAPORE: Calling out the authorities for the number of monkeys being culled annually, animal activist-turned-Member of Parliament (MP) Louis Ng said that killing about a third of the total macaque population in Singapore every year is "too much".
Close to 630 monkeys were culled by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) last year. That is estimated to be about one-third of the total macaque population in Singapore. According to the AVA, around 440 monkeys were culled in 2014, while about 570 were killed the preceding year.
Responding to queries from 938LIVE, the AVA said that it received about 750 instances of monkey-related feedback last year, similar to the preceding year. This is a significant drop from more than 1,800 reports in 2013.
The AVA noted, however, that while the overall volume of feedback has fallen, the proportion of feedback pertaining to public safety-related issues and monkey nuisance has increased, now averaging about seven in 10.
In this light, Mr Ng said that culling would not be an effective method to curb such complaints, and he intends to raise this during the upcoming Committee of Supply debates.
“It just reduces the troop size for a little while. A lot of times, when they trap the monkeys, they are trapping the younger ones - the babies who haven’t learnt. What we find is that biologically, without a doubt, the mothers will breed again," said Mr Ng, who is also the executive director of the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES).
"If we do cull the whole troop of monkeys, another troop will just take over the area. Unless we are really determined to kill all 1,800 monkeys or so, within one or two months, wipe out the whole population in Singapore completely, there is really no effective way of culling them at this point,” he added.
The AVA said it humanely euthanises animals as a last resort, and conducts targeted removal of aggressive or nuisance-causing monkeys for public safety in response to feedback.
Examples include a case in August last year, where a troop of monkeys repeatedly entered a residence, and attacked and injured a dog twice over a year. During the same period, the AVA also handled a case of 2 monkeys entering a playschool multiple times over two weeks, stealing food and behaving aggressively towards the children.
SHARING LIVING SPACE
Dr Robert Liew is one resident who has experienced, first-hand, the realities of living with the macaques. At his home near Casuarina Road, monkeys regularly climb on the walls of his home. “They come to the railing and look for food. We try to put the food away as much as possible,” he said.
Dr Liew, however, said that he has learnt to deal with the monkeys, such as by avoiding eye contact. “They’ve never done harm to me or my family. We also have a dog; the monkeys know there’s a presence of a larger animal. They don’t come too close,” he added.
For him, an added step will be for the authorities to do more to prevent members of the public from feeding the monkeys, which usually appear “when passers-by start feeding them”.
NOT MONKEY BUSINESS: One-third of the total monkey population was culled last year, but are they still getting on residents' backs? Some of them who live near Peirce Reservoir talk to 938LIVE. http://bit.ly/1qpvYalPosted by 938LIVE on Monday, 4 April 2016
Nearby, Ms Karen Tan is another resident who encounters monkeys loitering near her home on a daily basis. “These monkeys come and go as they please. But it’s a matter of education. A lot of my neighbours and I were distraught to sometimes see baby monkeys in cages. I don’t think anyone wants to see the animals killed,” she said.
Indeed, instead of culling, co-existence is the way to go for Mr Ng, who added that he hopes to continue working with the AVA on the issue.
"(Killing) 600 a year is too much; a lot of times, they use private contractors. How much money is spent on culling? Perhaps the money can be used on more humane solutions, going on the ground to fence up the areas, make sure the monkeys have no access," he said, adding that these would be more sustainable solutions, together with education and raising awareness.
"The monkey probably doesn’t know that it’s entering the house, the only thing they are seeing is the food. That’s the stimulus. Remove the stimulus and the monkeys will go away. It’s happened for residents in Thomson. I spoke to them, found that when they put up the grilles, made sure that the monkeys have no access to food, the monkeys naturally leave," said Mr Ng.
For now, he continues to see politics as a platform to continue his work with animals and effect change at a higher level, and intends to keep his focus on the issue.
"With ACRES, we’ve rescued monkeys and released them back into the wild. Rescuing the monkeys one by one will take a long time; I don’t think we can make a huge difference if we continued that way," said Mr Ng.
"Now I’m trying to push for more policy changes in the way we handle the human and wildlife conflict. I will ask more questions on whether culling is a solution. Asking the parliamentary question (is) just a first step."