It is no secret that I have a special affinity for macaques. Not only are they naughty, they are also clever and very inquisitive. Also seven years ago, my very first rescue orphan macaque Charlie became the pivotal point in my commitment to wildlife conservation, rescue and advocacy.
We have been receiving in our Center a wide range of highly endangered wildlife, from slow lorises to pangolins, from the owners of wildlife animals. And we do our part not only to educate these people about wildlife, but also provide veterinary treatment to these wild animals brought to the Center until they are ready to travel to their rehabilitation residence with Wildlife Alliance at Phnom Tameo Wildlife Rescue Center (PTWRC).
Last week a couple of foreigners came in, seeking help for their ‘pet’. When we saw that their pet was a wildlife animal, it was more dreadful than we expected, even for us. It was a very young baby macaque, about five months old, and his neck was split open with an injury about four inches wide and about 1.5-2.0 inches deep. The wound was caused by a thick wire neckless that became too small for his growing body and literally cut into the neck, creating a huge infection and agonizing injury.
The wound was so infected that neurotic tissue was covering most of it and the smell of rotting flesh was overwhelming. The animal was obviously kept on a chain; the injury was not a sudden problem and must have taken months to occur – as the baby macaque grew, the metal wire became smaller and was slowly cutting into his flesh. It also must have taken weeks to get that deep and infected so badly. We were all astonished.
It was clearly an emergency and our vet team had to work quickly: the animal was sedated and surgery was performed to remove dead flesh off the wound. We stayed with him in the clinic till 11pm, waiting for the little one to wake up, so as not to make him confused or scared in his new environment.
While we were very grateful that the family brought the macaque to the clinic seeking help for his injuries, we advised them that macaques are wildlife and it is illegal to keep them as pets. We also explained the dangers associated with keeping wildlife at home with families: without proper health checks and long-term understanding of macaque behaviour, its needs and natural instincts, human injuries and even tragedies are unavoidable.
It is unfortunate that most people are completely unaware of macaque behaviour and its signs of aggression. They don’t realise how quickly and unpredictably their mood changes. People often think of macaques based on the idea of the imaginary, good-natured cartoon monkeys, circus acts or books, like Curious George. Yet, nothing can be further from reality.
Macaques grow into powerful animals and they will eventually attack their human owners out of frustration or jealousy. Macaques are prone to sudden and violent mood swings, particularly those with “identity issues resulting from having been bottle-fed as a surrogate human infant”. A macaque that may seem peacefully grooming itself one moment may attack children or family members they find threatening or perceive as rivals for attention and affection. In addition, macaques have a natural hierarchy, which even as a “pet” they will attempt to establish within their human family. The children are usually the first target – stemming from aggression for domination.
In addition to injuries, the health risks associated with keeping macaques as pets are even more serious. Macaques can carry a range of serious and even fatal diseases that are transmittable to humans: Herpes B, Tuberculosis, Dysentery, Hemorrhagic Fever, and Hepatitis to name a few. A whopping 99 percent of all macaques sold in Cambodia and Southeast Asia into the pet trade come from the wild, and as such no health screening is ever performed. Because of this, the health risks to human owners are immense.
Baby macaques that are illegally sold in Cambodia are usually acquired by wildlife traders in a very cruel and inhumane way, usually by trapping and severely injuring or killing the mother and other members of the macaque extended family group that come to the infant’s defense. The forced separation creates a severe negative impact in the social development of the infant, given that a juvenile macaque stays mainly with its mother and relatives in the first year of its life. The forced separation means that vital natural group behaviours will not be acquired and those lucky macaques that are confiscated and given a second chance to be rehabilitated, take a long time to learn natural macaque behaviours before being able to survive in a group and eventually in the wild.
While I understand why people think that taking a baby macaque for a pet is “cute”, buying a baby macaque is cruel, irresponsible and dangerous. Sure, they look adorable, very clingy when very young and their human-like face features and behaviour make them relatable. But what people do not understand is that this “pet” behaviour does not last long: macaques quickly become very destructive, and impossible to handle or train. Their high levels of intelligence make them super inquisitive, thus, everything that gets into their hands will be taken apart and broken. So very quickly, most baby macaques end up on the chain, under the scorching sun, without much needed attention, socialisation, nutrition and care.
We had luck on our side in our most recent rescue. After six days with us, on antibiotics and topical treatment, his head wound healed and we were able to take him to the Wildlife Rescue Center. He settled quickly with a group of five other rescued juvenile macaques in the Wildlife Alliance nursery. He has a long way to go to learn to socialise, compete for food and dominate within his small group and then when he is ready, he will be introduced to a larger group of macaques. We all hope that one day, he will be ready to be released into the wild and live free in the forests as he was meant to be.
My last advice is this: if you do not know whether the animal you have as a pet is wildlife or not, please do not be scared and come over to chat with us about it. At Animal Mama Center, we are happy to talk to you about your animal and the future that you will most likely face. We will also give you some options and advise on what to do to make the transition of the wildlife animal from your home to the rehabilitation center a stress-free experience. If you have found a wildlife and not sure where to go, bring it to us at Animal Mama and we will look after it and send it to the experts at Wildlife Alliance.
And finally, if you see wildlife in captivity, being mistreated or come across wildlife being sold on Facebook or shops, please report it immediately to Wildlife Hotline 012500094.
Animal Mama® Animal Clinic & Welfare Centre provides a wide range of services for animals & pets: vet care, boarding, daycare, pet food & supplies, hydrotherapy, grooming and doggy play dates.
Please visit us at:
Villa #15, Street 500
Toul Tom Pong, Phnom Penh 12311