Is there a need to trap and kill monkeys in Singapore?

Is trapping and killing Singapore's long-tailed macaques the solution to what has become dubbed "the monkey problem" here?

Authorities say they have witnessed a spike in complaints about monkey nuisance from residents living in the vicinity of nature reserve areas between last year and this. They have received some 1,460 complaints between January and August this year alone with a further 200 added in September — more than double the number in 2011.

Where do the bulk of these complaints come from? Residents living near the Central Catchment and Bukit Timah Nature Reserves, says the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority (AVA). According to them, more than 100 of the complaints were reports of monkey aggression — this includes monkeys snatching belongings, chasing people, as well as biting, scratching or injuring children, the elderly or pets.

In response, the AVA says it conducts "targeted removal of aggressive or nuisance-causing individuals to address concerns of feedback providers". Additionally, AVA spokespersons said that it loans monkey traps to members of the public "bothered by monkey nuisance/aggression", or engages external contractors to conduct "monkey control operations, when necessary".

As for its last measure, the AVA says its hired contractors are required to adhere to specific locations where trapping can be conducted, and also follow a set of guidelines for handling, capture and transport of the macaques.

What happens after trapping?

What happens when the macaques are trapped or captured? The AVA said releasing the macaques into the forest will not resolve instances of aggression and nuisance.

"Indiscriminate release of aggressive/nuisance-causing wildlife back into the environment merely transfers the problem from one estate to the next," said the spokesperson. "Relocation options are also limited in land-scarce Singapore. As such, humane euthanasia is our last resort."

Just how many were killed in the first half of this year? According to Louis Ng, founder and executive director of wildlife society Acres, some 357 or an estimated 20 per cent of the existing population of macaques in Singapore.

"(It's) a very, very high figure, and it almost sounds like what the authorities are trying to do is to exterminate the whole population," he said in an interview with Yahoo Singapore recently.

Contractors hired by the AVA are allowed to trap macaques in designated areas outside of land that comes under the purview of the National Parks Board (NParks). NParks land includes nature reserves, parks and forested areas.

Yahoo Singapore understands that the contractors are paid per macaque caught — a possible reason for contractors occasionally straying out of areas designated by the AVA for them to set their traps up.

Members of the public have flagged these instances to NParks before, resulting in one contractor, Jack Pang, being fined by the board recently for setting up a large cage beyond his allowed trapping area.

The green cage, which he placed bananas and oranges into, was photographed in July and, according to NParks, located just 10m outside the reserve. Yahoo Singapore understands that it was placed in an area where a troop of macaques sleeps at night and plays around on most afternoons.

According to a statement from NParks, Pang "had immediately removed the cage upon public feedback", and also paid the "composition amount" imposed for his offence.

"The composition amount is a matter between the contractor and NParks. Based on our records, the number of such offences is very small and we do not see growing trends in this type of offence," said NParks Director Yong Fook Chyi, in response to questions about how much Pang was fined, as well as how many times in the past such hired contractors had been penalised or caught for illegal trapping.

Feeding monkeys in Singapore

Animal researchers and activists have said previously that the aggressive behaviour of macaques towards humans — and their daring to venture into residential areas — have been progressively cultivated by humans.

Over the years, visitors to parks and nature reserves have fed them and lured them with food, teaching them that humans and human residences are sources of food. This has in turn resulted in their tendency to approach humans, grab plastic bags or containers of food off them, and if humans move too close to their babies, retaliate — in some cases, turning aggressive.

Feeding the macaques is against the law in Singapore, and NParks has in recent years erected signs in its nature reserves and parks warning against doing so. It has also conducted various outreach programmes over the years that included road shows, workshops and guided walks.

"We also carry out regular enforcement actions against people who feed monkeys," said Yong, who shared that a total of 451 notices of offence have been issued to people who feed animals (not restricted to macaques), and who fish illegally, between 2011 and June this year.

NParks said it does not break down this figure into specific offences, however, but for the first half of this year, 89 notices of offence were issued for all the above activities.

See pictures of some of the traps used for capturing macaques in Singapore, shared with us by residents, here:

Assisting NParks in its efforts to curb macaque-feeding in Singapore is Acres, which set up a macaque response team about a month and a half ago.

The team of two full-time rescuers responds to calls regarding macaques multiple times a day, and can receive up to seven calls on its hotline each day, with weekends and public holidays being busier.

Apart from dealing with reports or complaints about macaques, though, Acres is also making efforts to reach out to residents living near nature reserves, to educate them in how to behave around macaques as well as how to keep food sources inaccessible to them.

"The response has generally been very positive," said Ng. "When we try to explain and get their (residents') side of the story, they start to realise that okay, we are the source of the problem."

"So we need to cut our jackfruit tree down, or need to harvest the fruits; again we need to monkey-proof the bins, and then we need to retain the forest we are living in at this moment, and then this issue will be resolved," he added.

Ng also warned against the danger of AVA's practice of lending out traps to residents, because the latter are not trained to use them and when baby macaques get trapped in them, residents end up facing aggression from their angry parents.

"That's why we always stress it is very dangerous to loan out these traps," said Ng. "For a lot of the cases that we go down, we advise people and once they start to change their behaviour, try and have monkey-proof bins, we do see a decline in the number of conflicts."

If you spot any traps set up for macaques, or are experiencing difficulties with a macaque, please call the Acres hotline at 97837782. If you have feedback to share about the macaques, the AVA's hotline is 1800-476-1600.