Monkeys have changed my life! I have spent my entire life working to protect animals from mans stupidity and ignorance but nothing has impacted on me more than the plight of monkeys in India.
Over the last 40 years my work has involved working with all sorts of animals both domestic and wild but monkeys never interested me, I stupidly thought of them simply as destructive, aggressive and unpleasant creatures! How stupid! How wrong!
Life changed suddenly when a baby Bonnet Macaque monkey was brought to my rescue centre in Goa. It was bought as a pet but was dying from dehydration due to diarrhoea as a result of being fed the wrong milk and it being totally stressed out. It was obvious that the rescue centre did not have the facilities to cope with this baby so I took it home so my wife could care for it.
The little baby was about 6 weeks old and clearly needed 24 hour care. In order to provide the emotional support it required we had her sleeping in our bed with us and named her Daisy. What shook both my wife and I was the way she kept waking up screaming. Clearly she was having nightmares from the trauma of seeing her mother killed and being dragged from her dead body. These nightmares lasted for two months but gradually they became less and less as she realised she was safe.
The thing that immediately impacted on us was just how amazingly intelligent she was and the extent that she relied on the intimate contact with my wife and I.
It was not long before we started to receive other monkeys and in doing so realised that there was a new trade starting up in Goa of people selling these little babies on the beach. Thankfully we received total support from the Goa Forestry Department and the Police and we very quickly stamped the trade out. However, the more monkeys we received the more we realised just how much these monkeys suffer at the hands of humans.
We now have some 30 monkeys at our house and my large garden has been taken over with huge pens for them. Every baby that comes to us is treated just like Daisy was in that they sleep in our bed with us with nappies on and they receive 24 hour care until they are old enough to be gradually introduced to the outside pens. We passionately believe it should be up to the monkey to decide when they no longer require the 24 hour care and consider it is our responsibility to provide them with the care and love they need until they have made this adjustment.
Once they are confident enough to stay in the pens with others of their own kind we still provide them with support and they come out of their pens for regular walks. However the very young ones up to about two and a half years old are often just left loose to play in the garden. The fact that they wreak the garden and the house is of minor concern so long as they are happy.
Problems start to occur at about two and a half years as the macaques start getting difficult with women. This is a dominance thing which occurs naturally in macaque society but it does mean that they start biting women and so regretfully they can no longer be let out loose. Eventually all the males will become too dangerous for anyone to take for walks but the females always remain friendly with their male handlers so long as the Alpha male is not in sight.
Another thing we found amazing about macaques is just how much they love swimming. They totally adore water and it can be highly amusing watching them jumping from high in the trees to dive into our swimming pool. What is more they do not just jump they do acrobatics on the way down! All the pens that contain monkeys that cannot come out have their own small pool which they all make great use of.
It is now my final ambition in life to set up India’s first world class Primate Rescue, Rehabilitation and Study Centre here in Goa. We hate the thought that our monkeys are going to spend their whole lives in captivity but sadly there seems very little chance of getting them back to the wild. The main reason for this is the availability of suitable terrain to release them. As in most countries the forests and wild areas are being destroyed and monkeys are forced into the towns and cities where they cause a great deal of trouble and come in contact with things they are not equipped to cope with like cars and electricity lines. Many cities throughout India have huge problem with monkeys and there is an increasing demand for them to be shot.
Another problem about releasing macaques is that they need to be released in stable troops of 20 monkeys or more so that they have the social support they require and are able to defend themselves against other troops they may encounter. To release such a troop involves a great deal of research as firstly one needs to find a location where there is food and water available all the year round and with India’s dry season water becomes a major factor. Then one has to be certain that they will not be in immediate conflict with existing troops of monkeys. If one can satisfy all these demands one then needs to build a release pen in the area they are to be released in. This is vital as they firstly need to be introduced to all the local vegetation they can eat so that there is not a sudden change in diet that can result in illness.
The final stage is the slow release of the monkeys in a controlled way. This involves letting out one or two individuals at a time and then re-capturing them in the evening which is easily done as they will want to get back with the rest of the troop before it gets dark. The reason for this approach is to let them learn about their immediate environment so that when the whole troop is finally released they are confident and will not panic and run off which can lead to the breakup of the troop and put all their lives at risk. They will also know that they can return to the safety of the pen to get food that needs to be supplied during the transitional period. Once fully released the troop then needs to be tracked for at least a month to ensure they are fending for themselves without undue difficulties.
Sadly I feel that all I have said about the release of the monkeys is nothing more than a dream as I think the chances of satisfying all these demands is probably just that, a dream! However, this is why we need to have a study centre so that these aspects can be reviewed from a scientific aspect.
Even if we can eventually start to release troops of monkeys into the wild there will always be those that have been so traumatised by their treatment that they would not be able to cope in the wild. In addition there are those that would be too old to release and those that are injured. For these we need to provide facilities as close to nature as it is possible to achieve. To this end we intend building pens with monkey proof fencing so that they can be in large enclosures of about an acre with fully grown mature trees which is the best environmental enrichment they could possibly have. Each pen would also have a large pond for them to swim in. We feel certain that with such pens the monkeys would soon want to break off contact with us lesser creatures but for those that still need human support we consider it only right that they should have it. We believe the choice should be that of the monkeys to decide.
Another aspect our Study Centre will be involved in is the study of the humane control of monkeys. This is vital if we want to stop the mass slaughter of these wonderful creatures in towns and cities. The way forward must be mass sterilization and thankfully some amazing work has been carried out on this by Dr Sandeep Rattan, Senior Wildlife Veterinarian at the HP Forest Department, Shimla. This has to be the most amazing project I have seen in all my years in animal welfare. He and his team have worked out a way to sterilize monkeys, both male and female, in just one and a half minutes using keyhole surgery! I have seen it myself and am in ore of what they have achieved. Their system has been worked out to catch a whole troop of monkeys at a time and transport them and sterilize them with the minimum stress possible. The monkeys remain in captivity for just 4 or 5 days and are released back where they were caught.
In order to fulfil my dream I have started up two new charities. Our progress can be followed on our website www.ThePrimateTrust.org and www.PrimateTrustIndia.org I just hope that having read this you have come to realise how much these highly sensitive creatures need all our support.