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Indonesia Says No To Monkey Business

Animal rights groups get their wish: no more monkey shows on the streets of Jakarta, which means raids to rescue the animals and job training to prepare their trainers for new work.

"Topeng monyet" in Jakarta
"Topeng monyet" in Jakarta
Erric Permana

JAKARTA — Starting next year, you won’t be seeing “topeng monyet” – the shows that feature monkeys wearing funny masks and performing acrobatic tricks – on the streets of Jakarta.

On a recent day in the Indonesian capital, dozens of monkey handlers were waiting in line to be registered by local authorities. One of them is 30-year-old Badri who joined the business a year ago. He has handed over his monkey to the authorities. “What else can I do?" Badri asks. "I want the government to give me some money so I can open a new business.

The government will buy each monkey from the handlers and caretakers for $90, and the handlers will be provided with vocational training to help find new jobs. Cecep, who has been earning money from his monkeys, says he will hold the government to its promise.

“I know about the promise from the media ... that my monkeys will be traded in for a new job. But I don’t know what kind of job it will be,” Cecep says.

Joko Widodo, the governor of Jakarta, has ordered the ban, and security forces have started conducting raids to rescue the monkeys. Still, Widodo has assured monkey handlers that they would not be punished for their use of animals. “The monkey performances are obstructing public order because the shows are on the streets. Monkeys might have rabies too. That’s why we’re banning monkey performances from the capital.”

"We take care of our monkeys"

Animal rights group have long claimed the monkeys are being mistreated by their handlers. They say the animals are tortured to remain obedient and their teeth are pulled so they can’t bite — something that handlers like Cecep deny: “The media says that we torture the monkeys. That’s not true. At home we even feed them milk. The media are exaggerating, just ask any handler around. We take care of our monkeys. When they’re sick, we spend up to $9 on them, which is more that we spend when we get sick.”

But a video recorded by the Jakarta Animal Aid Network JAAN shows how the monkeys are trained to stand-up like humans. “I will pay $100 for anybody who can train wild monkeys to stand on their two feet!” says Hamdan, a monkey trainer in Jakarta. “We tie its two hands behind its back, and we push its neck to face the sky. They’re not going to die because of that. Training only takes an hour. After that, we let them rest and give them something to drink and eat.”

The rescued monkeys during the raids are then taken to a shelter near Ragunan Zoo in South Jakarta. There are already nearly 60 monkeys in cages and only members of staff are allowed access.

Quarantine and rehabilitation

Hygiene measures require officers to wear masks, a special uniform and clean their shoes before entering the shelter. Inside the officers take blood samples to determine whether or not the monkeys have infectious diseases. “We’re checking for TB and hepatitis. They will be taken to Ragunan Zoo in the future, so we’re checking their condition now,” says Sri Hartati from Jakarta’s Agriculture Office.

The monkeys will be quarantined for up to six months for a medical check-up and will undergo a rehabilitation process. “These monkeys come from the streets," Hartati says. "After several checks, we will group them. Monkeys live in a colony, so it might take some time for the rehabilitation process. They’re all good now. They’re happy and have started to play inside.”

The monkey rehabilitation process will be carried out with the help of a local NGO, the Jakarta Animal Aid Network. JAAN spokesman Benvika says some of the monkeys were found in miserable conditions: “Twenty-two percent of monkeys have hepatitis, some have gum infections, or tuberculosis. And all of them have worms, that's why they're so skinny.”

Ideally, JAAN would like to relocate the monkeys to an isolated island off the coast of Jakarta. But the Jakarta government has other plans. “The monkeys will be taken to Ragunan Zoo. There are many visitors there and many healthy animals. We have to be totally sure that these monkeys are healthy before sending them there. We’re going to vaccinate them,” says Hartari.

The monkeys will be housed in an enclosure in the Ragunan zoo, before the government builds them a new home in a setting as natural as possible. “It’d be good to have a semi-natural forest there for the monkeys. Or a man-made forest with some separators so the monkeys can’t get out but are free to move around inside,” JAAN's Benvika says.

Following the move in Jakarta, authorities in Surakarta, in Central Java, are also planning to ban the masked monkey shows.

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