Sat, 03 Apr 2004

Monkey poaching out of control in Central Sulawesi

Irvan NR, The Jakarta Post, Palu, Central Sulawesi

The sale of monkeys in Central Sulawesi province remains widespread, despite a ban by the government. The monkeys are usually displayed and sold along main roads in Central Sulawesi, including the trans-Sulawesi highway that runs through Poso regency and a highway along the West Coast of Donggala regency.

The monkeys are usually caught by local residents who say they are pests.

Rustam, 41, a resident in Balaesang district, Donggala regency complained recently that the monkeys had cost him a lot, as they often ate the fruit on his plantation, including cacao and some vegetables.

Rustam was annoyed, so he set a trap to catch them. He said that rather than killing them, he sold the monkeys to people who want them as pets or other traders.

One of those who likes them as pets is W. V., 61, who is now residing in Poso Pesisir district, Poso regency. He owns three monkeys, which are locked up in a cage next in his yard. The monkeys were purchased from local residents several months ago for Rp 50,000 each. That seems to be the standard price for one monkey in the province.

Rustam added that he just like them as pets, but others sought them for commercial purposes. Some monkey traders in Manado, the capital of North Sulawesi, intensively hunt for monkeys to supply several restaurants in the province that offer monkey meat to their customers. The monkey meat is believed to be an aphrodisiac.

Amir Hamzah, the head of Natural Resource Conservation Center (BKSDA), expressed concern about the out of control hunting and trading of monkeys in the province, saying that there probably would not be any left in a few years.

He was surprised to discover that they were being sold for such a low price. "However, the price is not the biggest issue. The monkeys are a rare and valuable species that cannot be replaced by money," he said.

He said that each day, at least two monkeys are captured. If there is no immediate steps to stop this crime, the monkeys indigenous to Central Sulawesi will be wiped off the face of the earth forever.

According to a book entitled Field Guidelines for Indonesia's Primates by Jatna Supriatna and Edy Hendra W. (2000), there are eight species of monkeys of the macaque family on Sulawesi, two of which are found only in C. Sulawesi, the Macaca Hecki and Macaca Tonkeana.

Locals in Central Sulawesi call the Macaca Hecki different names such as dige, buol, bangkolae, dondo or tinombo, while the Macaca Tongkeana is popularly known as a boti, ibo or oga. They mostly inhabit the northern portion of the province up to Limboti lake in Gorontalo province.

It also says the Macaca Hecki weighs from 6.8 to 11.2 kilograms and is 497 to 557 millimeters in length. It has a wide face and a front tuft that stands erect. Also its bottom is larger than that of other Sulawesi monkeys. The Macaca Hecki lives in groups of 10 to 15. The Hecki and Tongkeana monkeys can inter-mate.

The Macaca Tonkeana species spreads over the widest area in Sulawesi. These weighs about 12 to 14 kilograms and are 500 to 700 millimeters in length with a tail between 30 and 70 millimeters long. They live in groups of 25 to 40.

Each group is led by an alpha male, who is distinguishable from the others by his deeper, throatier voice. They have always lived on the plains of Central Sulawesi and have two sub-species or cousins, the Macaca Tonkeana Togenanus, which live only on the Togean islands in Poso regency, and the Macaca Balantakensis, which live in Balantak in Luwuk Banggai regency.

The Macaca Tonkeana is the most commonly captured because it spread over the widest area.

Poaching and the shrinking forests -- as the human population grows and encroaches further into their habitat as well as illegal logging -- are the main contributors to their rapid decrease. Poaching is rampant because of the ignorance or lack of respect for the protected animals by many current residents. Most say they had no idea it was illegal to capture and/or kill the monkeys. Many parts of Sulawesi have seen a mass influx of transmigrants from western Indonesia.

The government has issued two decrees that protect the animals, including ministerial decree No. 421/1970 and No. 301/1990, but widespread poaching continues unabated.

Dozens of indigenous residents in Sojol district, Donggala regency recalled a time when the monkeys could always be seen playing on the edge of the forests next to their village, but that was over 20 years ago -- before the poachers, illegal loggers and others arrived.