Letter to the Editor: Aggressive macaque merely adapting to its environment
I read with deep concern your reports, "Baby could have been mistaken for pet’s offspring" (Oct 8) and "Killer macaque still alive" (Oct 8).
Despite all the advice provided by environmental and animal welfare NGOs and the Wildlife and National Parks Department against the feeding and taunting of macaques and the keeping of macaques as pets, Malaysians continue to feed, tease or keep macaques while conveniently ignoring the fact that macaques are wild animals. We must remember that we can neither predict nor control the natural behaviours of wild animals.
Feeding macaques causes them to lose their fear of humans and see people and even automobiles as a source of food. Many macaques become casualties of road accidents because they venture too close to roads and highways, expecting handouts from cars. Teasing and playing with macaques may cause them to become aggressive, especially when they are cornered or when they feel threatened by direct eye contact. Urban macaques develop behavioural traits such as aggression towards humans, a very low fear of humans and scavenging in rubbish dumps (a potential source for contagious infections) to adapt to living near human habitation.
Shooting a rogue macaque is not a long-term solution to the problem of macaque aggression. As indicated by the news report, the male macaque may have been attracted to human homes due to the presence of a female macaque that was in captivity. Wild animals respond to stimuli such as the presence of food, threats, prey, predators and mates. As can be seen from attempts to control the population of other stray and feral animals such as dogs, shooting a dominant male animal is not a solution to the problem of aggressive behaviour and animal attacks, as another male in the pack will merely become more dominant and aggressive to fill the void created by the elimination of the alpha male. As long as humans continue feeding feral macaques and keeping macaques as pets (especially in areas with an existing macaque population), macaques will continue to breed and display adaptive and aggressive behaviour. As indicated in the report, "Bereaved mum fears again as macaques show up" (Oct 13), after Perhilitan had shot the macaque that was believed to be the one that had killed the unfortunate infant, other larger, more aggressive macaques began to show up in the area.
While I feel immense sympathy and sorrow for the bereaved family, for the reasons stated above, I believe shooting and culling to be actions which are ineffective at best, and downright harmful at worst. Malaysians must remember that the macaque population in urban areas became a problem due to human encroachment into macaque habitat, and our poor hygiene and waste management habits, which emboldened macaques to raid rubbish bins and enter human homes.
More practical long-term solutions to the issues of macaque aggression and overpopulation are to stop feeding, taunting or breeding macaques, to stop littering and to dispose of rubbish in secure receptacles. Further, captive and captured macaques can be sterilised to reduce aggressive behaviour and to control their population. Male macaques can undergo vasectomy while female macaques can undergo tubectomy, as both processes keep organs and hormones intact, which will help released macaques retain social skills and social hierarchies in their groups. Other prescriptions may involve the relocation of urban macaques. However, all relocation plans should cover habitat assessment and follow-up monitoring.
WONG EE LYNN