A better life for Jakarta’s dancing monkeys
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Little monkeys, wearing masks and dancing… Sound cute? At first glance, maybe. But Indonesia’s dancing monkeys, which are used for begging, are often treated horribly. After several years of campaigning, Jakarta animal rights activists have succeeded in getting the local authorities to listen up and rescue the monkeys from the capital’s streets.
Screen grab from the last video below.
Little monkeys, wearing masks and dancing… Sound cute? At first glance, maybe. But Indonesia’s dancing monkeys, which are used for begging, are often horribly treated. After several years of campaigning, Jakarta animal rights activists have succeeded in getting the local authorities to listen up and rescue the monkeys from the capital’s streets.
Jakarta’s Governor Joko Widodo recently declared he wanted to put an end to this monkey business, locally known as “topeng monyet”, by next year. Last week, city authorities started confiscating the primates and compensating the owners the equivalent of about 75 euros. The animals are then sent for health checks. According to local activists, it has been a few days since anyone has reported seeing dancing monkeys in the capital.
A typical monkey show, in which the busker repeatedly yanks on the primate's chain.
“They were kept hung by the neck four hours, with their hind feet barely touching the ground, so that they would learn how to walk upright”
Femke den Haas is a co-founder of the Jakarta Animal Aid Network, a small nonprofit started in 2008. She is originally from the Netherlands; the organisation's members include a mix of foreign nationals and Indonesians.
Dancing monkeys have existed in Indonesia for a long time, but this truly started becoming a big business in 2009. Suddenly, they were on practically every street corner in Jakarta. Locals who gave the monkey buskers money clearly didn’t realise how much the animals suffered.
We conducted investigations into how these monkeys were procured and trained. They were taken from the wild as babies, which generally meant killing the mother or other family members, as these types of monkeys - long-tailed and crab-eating macaques - travel in groups and are extremely protective of their young. They were then sold in markets. A handful of people in Jakarta bought hundreds of monkeys, and rented them out street buskers, who often got into debt with the monkey’s owners.
But first, the monkeys had to be trained. To do this, they were kept hung by the neck four hours, with their hind feet barely touching the ground, so that they would learn how to walk upright. [See this video at minute 2’45”.] They also took out their teeth so that they couldn’t bite. And to teach them how to put on a mask, which monkeys hate doing, they were beaten. On top of all this, they were often severely underfed. And when they performed in the streets – always in chains – they often got their tails broken by rough handlers.
In this video, a monkey riding a toy motorcycle falls off when the busker yanks on his chain. Well trained, he then pretends to be dead for a while, before rising and starting all over again.
Beyond this cruelty, the monkeys posed a health risk. They weren’t vaccinated, and carried parasites and all sorts of other diseases that can spread to humans, notably tuberculosis.
“They no longer have teeth to defend themselves against predators or other monkeys, so we can’t release them in a forest”
It took us a long time, but we’re finally getting these monkeys to safety. It’s fantastic that Jakarta’s governor is putting so much time and money into this; in my whole career as an animal rights advocate in Indonesia [over a decade now] I have never seen a government official make so much effort. We’re working with the local authorities by sending our veterinarians and volunteers to check out the monkeys currently in quarantine. About one hundred are now being treated, and we are set to treat 70 more – which have already been confiscated – in the next week.
That may be it for Jakarta, as nobody has seen any more dancing monkeys in recent days. It is possible that some owners have hidden some monkeys or taken them to other towns. We know that the practice still continues, on a smaller scale, in other Indonesian cities. The good news is that several other governors have announced that they plan to follow suit and crack down on the practice, so we hope there will soon be no more dancing monkeys anywhere in Indonesia.
The question now, of course, is what to do with them. They are quite traumatised, and no longer have teeth to defend themselves against predators or other monkeys, so we can’t release them in a forest. We’re working on a plan to relocate the monkeys to a safe island. We have already found someone who is willing to rent us an island long-term at a very reasonable price, but we still need to raise about 200,000 euros to cover this and other costs. If we aren’t able to do this, the governor has secured space for the monkeys in the local zoo.
Another "topeng monyet" show.
A video report by Jakarta Animal Action Network that explains how the monkeys are captured and trained.
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Gaelle Faure (@gjfaure).