Reflections – BQ Life: Volunteer Guide

I am just going to start this post by professing my love for primates… I really love primates!! I even have a chimpanzee poster that I bought from the Singapore Zoo when I was 4 still hung up in my room. I especially love orangutans! They are quiet in nature, yet so friendly!! I also love slow loris!!!! Their big, googly pair of eyes has all of my heart! I do read on research papers on human-macaque interactions in Singapore, but I never really tried finding out much about long-tailed macaques as the creatures they are. Therefore, I attended this session with the intention to educate myself more on the nature of long-tailed macaques.

A little fun fact before I dive in to what I’ve learnt during the session!!  Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES), an established NGO in Singapore that is dedicated to wildlife rescue and education, was founded by Mr Louis Ng after his experience with a baby chimpanzee at Singapore Zoo. The chimp ran to Mr Ng, a volunteer photographer, after being punished for not behaving well while being trained for photography sessions with zoo visitors. Mr Ng saw how baby chimpanzees were kept away from their mothers, and were harshly punished for not behaving as expected. Upon seeing this, Mr Ng advocated for the photography sessions to end, and he successfully abolished the sessions. Mr Ng then realised that nobody was tackling animal welfare issues in Singapore and therefore, he formed ACRES with nine other Singaporeans. It is fascinating to know that ACRES was formed because of an individual’s interaction with a primate.

I learnt many facts about long-tailed macaques during the session. It came as a surprise to me that crabs are a part of a macaques’s diet, and that mangroves are a part of macaque’s natural habitat. Long-tailed macaques live in a social group. They are often spotted in a troupe of 20 to 35. A troupe consists of adult males, adult females, subadults, juveniles, and infants. There is a social hierarchy formed in each long-tailed macaque troupe. An alpha male and alpha female are the first ones to access any resources (e.g. food), but they are also the first ones to fend their troupe in times of danger.

Long-tailed macaques are usually wary of humans, but when they interact with humans on multiple occasions, they get comfortable. Macaques enter homes when they want access to food that is visible to them. Improper disposal of food by humans is also another artificial source of food for macaques. Another reason why long-tailed macaques are often spotted in urban area is because the intersection of urban and forested areas result in extensive overlap between human and macaque ranges. It is a perspective that did not occur to me before. Macaques will need to pass through urbanised areas to access different forested areas, and therefore, there are heightened chances of human-macaque interactions.

There are many misconceptions that individuals harbor that affects human-macaque interactions. Many individuals have the notion that macaques are intruding in to their spaces, but in reality, it is humans who are intruding in to the spaces of macaques. Another fact that individuals fail to comprehend is that macaques do not have a sense of boundary. They cannot perceive an architecture, and relate it to its purpose. For example, if there is a gate, a macaque does not understand its function and will still climb over it.

I believe that the best way to increase positive human-macaque interaction is through educating the public on how to interact with macaque effectively. I am not sure if this is already implemented, but newsletters and/or pamphlets should be handed out to all households in neighbourhoods where there are reported cases of negative human-macaque interactions. This will educate residents more on how to handle and behave appropriately when they encounter with a long-tailed macaque. Another way to increase awareness is to request permission to put up signs that educate individuals at residential blocks’ signboards in these neighbourhoods.

I was concerned to hear about the number of road kill incidents in Singapore. There were long-tailed macaques death by road kill at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. There were also macaques that were killed next to nature parks, and these are not roads that vehicles should be moving so fast on. This is an indication that the macaques are not even safe in the nature, let alone urban areas. I do sincerely believe that there should be more consideration and thought put in to how we can reduce the numbers of road kills, especially in terms of law and legislation. I do not have any suggestions for now, but if I do come across an idea or a measure implemented in another country, I will write more about it in the comments section of this post.

This session has also prompt me to visit Jane Goodall Institute (Singapore)’s official website to learn more about the work the institute does. I was extremely delighted to discover that JGIS offers an internship position that is solely based on creating awareness on wildlife and biodiversity in Singapore. Given my heightened interest in biodiversity in Singapore after joining BFF and exploring ways to contribute more to advocating for positive human-wildlife interactions, I will definitely apply for this internship position when my schedule permits!

As mentioned in the beginning of this post, I do love reading on research papers on this topic, and therefore, I will put some links below for anybody who would like to read more on this topic!

Thank you for this opportunity to learn more about long-tailed macaques in Singapore, and allowing me to think more deeply in to how we can promote positive human-macaque interactions.

Further readings:

Results of a nationwide census of the long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis) population of Singapore

Managing Humans, Managing Macaques: Human–Macaque Conflict in Asia and Africa (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/237007717_Managing_Humans_Managing_Macaques_Human-Macaque_Conflict_in_Asia_and_Africa)

Characterizing Human–Macaque Interactions in Singapore (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4447320/)

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