We are the Monkey Guards team from JGIS! We are a team of volunteers that shares a common passion for working with long tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis), educating people about our primate neighbours and mitigate any human-macaque conflicts that might be present through an integrated approach together with the Long-tailed Macaque Working Group. Our aim is to ensure a harmonious relationship between macaques and the humans who work, live or play close to the area they inhibit.
Monkey guarding as an idea is not new. In fact, it has been practised by groups of trained personnel around the world. An example of such a similar program can be found in the British territory of Gibraltar where there are trained personnel to patrol the Rock where Barbary macaques are present。In this way, any negative interactions between tourists and macaques can be minimised.
So, as you may ask, what do we do as monkey guards? We patrol various hotspots where human-macaque conflict has been an issue. Current hotspots involve the residential condos at the outer edges of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and Macritchie Reservoir. We use our knowledge of macaque behaviour to prevent the macaques from entering areas that they are not supposed to go and doing things that they should not do.
Besides dealing with macaques, we work with residents and other stakeholders by engaging them and providing alternatives to foster harmonious co-existence.
We collaborate with the Long Tailed Macaque Working Group (LTMWG). The LTMWG, which our parent organisation, JGIS, is a partner of, identifies various hotspots that needs patrolling. In turn, our observations on the ground together with ACRES and NParks – help inform the crafting of various measures by the LTMWG to mitigate and prevent human-wildlife conflicts.
Joint resident visits at conflict hotspots by us and our fellow representatives of our LTMWG help us understand the situation on the ground. Taking the time to learn the needs and altitudes of our residents is essential if we were to educate and give personalised advice to residents on making their residence a more macaque-proof place. By changing a few residents’ attitudes, we hope to influence the rest of the residents to do the same! While it is unlikely that an advocate who culls macaques will be transformed to a macaque lover overnight, persuading residents to adapt to and embrace the presence of macaques along with other local wildlife is important in achieving our vision.
An important aspect of Monkey Guarding is basically trying to keep food out of reach of macaques. The presence of human food drives macaque intrusions onto residential areas. After all, even humans would prefer a processed treat to natural food (i.e fruits). Giving macaques access to food encourages macaques to spend more time in urban areas, which changes their behavioural patterns, exposes them to urban dangers (such as being struck down by passing vehicles) and increasing the likelihood of adverse human-macaques interactions. Macaques that feast on human food are not performing the valuable ecosystem service of dispersing seeds of plants, which is what macaques do when they consume their normal diet of fruit.
Besides advising residents to keep their food out of sight and reach by closing access points to the homes, we advise the management to make their trash bins monkey-proof and clean up any discarded food lying around. We also monitor instances of deliberate feeding of macaques and advise anyone doing that to cease being part of the problem. Education about our most common primate neighbours is important which brings us to our next major aspect of Monkey Guarding – outreach!
Outreach is an important part of Monkey Guarding as an enlightened public is more likely to support and embrace macaques as a part of their natural heritage and environment. We run booths in various biodiversity events such as the Festival of Biodiversity; give presentations about what we do for schools and facilitate Monkey Watch for International Primate Day. While we may educate and inform the public for a variety of methods and audiences, the underlying goal is the same, that is, to raise awareness on how to coexist with our primate neighbours positively! Awareness fosters empathy for the macaques which in turns allows us to live harmoniously with them.
As Monkeys Guards, we combine our scientific knowledge of macaque behaviour and working with various stakeholders consisting of our partners at LTMWG, residents, management and the general public to attain our vision of peaceful and harmonious coexistence between humans and macaques. It is not an easy road – but such work is essential if we were to ensure that relationship between macaques and humans remains a positive one. Macaques are an indispensable part of our natural heritage which have equal rights to coexist with humans in our wild city (just like the otters we find adorable).
If you think that being a Monkey Guard is a meaningful way to contribute to saving our local biodiversity, please drop an email to Sabrina at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more!