SINGAPORE: What do you do when a monkey asks you for food? If your answer is to feed them, this campaign is for you.
Launched at the first annual Human-wildlife Co-existence in Asia: Conflicts and Mitigations Conference on Tuesday (Nov 26), a three-year "No Feeding" campaign aims to teach park-goers and residents near macaque hotspots not to feed the monkeys.
The campaign was launched by the Jane Goodall Institute Singapore (JGIS) in partnership with the Longtailed Macaque Working Group.
"Over the next three years, JGIS and the working group aim to reduce and eventually stop the provision of food to macaques by humans," said Second Minister for National Development Desmond Lee in his opening address.
"Supported by data and feedback, outreach and education activities will be scaled-up, and 'monkey guarding' efforts will be carried out in more areas."
'Money guards' are residents in macaque hotspots who have been trained in macaque behaviour and appropriate ways of dealing with them.
Feeding macaques would alter their "natural behaviours" and make them "dependent on human food", explained Mr Lee.
"This in turn may cause them to encroach into our living environments to seek out human food."
INCREASED CONTACT WITH MONKEYS
Nature groups told CNA that anti-feeding campaigns were necessary as humans come into more contact with monkeys.
"We have seen an increased number of sightings of monkeys (because) monkeys are using residential areas to cross over," said Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES) deputy chief executive Anbarasi Boopal.
"Their habitats have been fragmented and also there's more connectivity in terms of path connectors. So these animals are forced to cross over residential areas in order to reach another pocket of habitat," she said.
She added that with this increased contact, residents have to know how to deal with these monkeys, should they encounter one.
According to data collected by ACRES, the wildlife group received 278 calls related to macaque sightings from January to November this year, up from 244 calls in 2018.
And with the addition of more green areas in Singapore, such as Thomson Nature Park and the upcoming Rifle Range Nature Park, people have more access to nature and wildlife, said Mr Shawn Lum, president of the Nature Society.
He explained that people often feed wildlife because they like the animals and want to help them, but this misinformation needs to be addressed.
"Without addressing these potential conflict situations or where human empathy for the animals is a little bit misdirected, (we can) pre-empt that by having these proactive approaches," he said.
Mr Lum felt that a softer approach - rather than punishments - would be more effective.
"There has to be a big public presence on the ground - not so much in terms of enforcement," he said, adding that JGIS has seen some success through their volunteer outreach efforts.
"I think this time, maybe we might see some long-lasting and transformation of change in people ... The idea is just to have a better relationship with the natural world," he said.
RESIDENTS SUPPORTIVE OF CAMPAIGN
When CNA visited houses in one macaque hotspot along Old Upper Thomson Road, near Peirce Reservoir, most residents said that they were supportive of the new campaign.
"I think it's good to do it once in a while," said Mr Lee Seng Luan, 75, who has been living in the area for more than 20 years.
He said that while residents are aware that they should not feed monkeys, passers-by are often the culprits. Instead, residents themselves have confronted passers-by who offer food to the monkeys.
"(The authorities) should come around and catch people who are feeding the monkeys. They should patrol more," said Mr Bernard Teo, 63. He has been a resident in the area since 1999.
Mr Max Lim, 44, who was visiting Upper Pierce Reservoir, found that the effectiveness of such a campaign was "half-half".
"It's dependent on the outreach," he said. "For people who frequent this area, it makes sense to (have the campaign) here. For someone who only goes to Orchard Road, it's not very helpful," he said.
Nevertheless, Mr Lum is "pretty hopeful" that this campaign could work, but it has to be a "longer-term commitment".
"It's not just that we'll try for six months, and if people still feed the monkeys, to get discouraged. This is not just about feeding monkeys, but it's about resetting our relationship with nature," he said.