Special Report: Cruelty Behind the Mask of Jakarta’s Monkey Circuses
Source : Jakarta Globe, Ismira Lutfia | March 28, 2011
Link : http://www.thejakartaglobe.com/home/special-report-cruelty-behind-the-mask-of-jakartas-monkey-circuses/432009
it is a pitiful sight, but one that Jakarta residents are used to and that tourists encounter within days or even hours of arriving.
By the side of the road, a small, skinny monkey, sometimes fitted with a grotesque mask and garish costume, juggles or rides a toy bicycle or rocking horse, all the while tethered by a chain to a handler squatting in the shade a meter or two away, waiting for the occasional coin tossed from a car window.
In one South Jakarta spot, a nursing monkey is forced to perform, her infant clinging to her desperately while suckling, as motorists line up to enter the toll road. Every minute or two, her leash is yanked and she remembers that it’s time to change the act.
The sight of topeng monyet, or masked monkeys, is so familiar, and the long-tailed macaques trained to perform like this often seem so world-weary, that it is tempting to imagine that they have always been around.
But the monkey acts really only began in the 1980s as traveling shows to entertain poor kids in the kampungs. Only in recent years have monkeys been seen in the city center.
Since then their numbers have grown steadily, and as their visibility has increased, so too have concerns about the welfare of the monkeys.
For this special report, the Jakarta Globe looks behind the mask and investigates the hidden suffering and torture that the monkeys endure — suffering that becomes more and more entrenched with every Rp 1,000 note that passing drivers hand over.
Where It All Begins
The story behind the often light-hearted shows starts in the East Jakarta slum area of South Cipinang Besar, famously known as Kampung Monyet, or Monkey Village, where at least 150 macaques are kept in cramped wooden cages.
After having endured hours of agonizing “training,” the monkeys sit stuck in cages, waiting for their turn to be taken out to the street to perform. They live among the roughly 200 households in a shantytown built on disputed land behind the Prumpung toy market. The majority of residents in the area work as monkey handlers.
Cecep, one such resident, shows the Globe the grotesque way that a monkey that normally walks on four legs is taught to stand upright.
Behind a shanty on a riverbank filled with garbage, Cecep puts a metal ring around the neck of Toal, a male macaque with a broken arm from a previous training incident. Two ropes tether the ring to poles erected on either side of the monkey. Cecep also ties Toal’s arms behind his back while the monkey screeches in pain.
This “hanging the monkey” method, Cecep says, forces the animal to rely only on its feet to get better footing on the ground, strengthening the monkey’s leg muscles and giving it an erect, human-like posture.
“We usually hang the monkeys for half a day before we release them for a few hours to feed them and let them rest,” says Nanang, another handler.
“After that, we hang them again for a few hours until the day’s training is over and we put them back in their cages.
“But we have to hit them, too, sometimes.”
Cecep says some handlers let their monkeys hang all day without feeding them or giving them breaks, risking medical problems or even death.
The hanging training begins as soon as a monkey stops nursing, or when it is at least a year old. It takes a week to a month for a monkey to get through this basic training, the handlers say.
Cecep, who has been in the trade since 1999, says peranakan monkeys, those born to performing monkeys, have a better chance of surviving the training than monyet pasar, or those caught in the wild by poachers.
“The peranakan ones can take a week to train while the monyet pasar take at least a month,” he says. “Sometimes they don’t make it and they die.”
The peranakan monkeys are considered more hardy than the pasar monkeys because trainers can be sure they have finished nursing. Monyet pasar, on the other hand, might not have had the chance before they were snatched by poachers. As a result, they tend to have less strength and stamina.
Once the monkeys have passed the hanging training and can walk upright, the handlers train them to use various toys and props, such as a toy motorcycle, for their performance.
“We also train them to lift toy weights to check if they can really stand erect,” Cecep says. “If they can’t, the toy training period takes longer.
“We don’t teach them to use all the toys at the same time,” he adds. “Once the monkey knows what to do with a toy gun, for example, we start training it with another toy.”
Dying in Training
Cecep and Nanang both claim a success rate of 60 percent in getting monkeys to complete the two phases of training.
“The other 40 percent [of monkeys] end up dead,” Cecep says. “If they’re not physically strong enough, they die during the basic training, though some die later in the toy training phase.”
Cecep thinks of himself as being gentler with his animals than the other handlers.
“If I fail and one of my monkeys dies during training, I give it a proper burial,” he says.
“Many others just toss the monkey’s body into the river or a garbage dump.”
He adds that he has had two monkeys die on him during training. Then there are the non-lethal training accidents, like the broken arm he gave Toal.
Cecep demonstrates how he has trained another of his monkeys, Odon, to ride a small wooden motorcycle and salute a flag.
As Odon walks back and forth with the toy motorcycle, Cecep gives the command for it to perform by yanking on the chain attached to a collar around the monkey’s neck.
It’s “normal” to pull hard, he says, and there’s a certain way to do it without breaking the animal’s neck. “I don’t give a sudden jerk while the chain is lax,” he says.
“I pull the chain straight first and then I slowly yank it to signal to him to start. That way, it doesn’t hurt his neck and he doesn’t lose his balance.”
Cecep and the other handlers train their monkeys to play with the props or perform other stunts in whatever free space they can find. Often this means the training occurs in the narrow alleyways of their neighborhood, among residents milling about and stacks of monkey cages.
Some of the smaller cages house two or more monkeys each, while the larger ones cram up to 15 monkeys together.
One of the caged animals is a female macaque named Atun. She is carrying a nursing infant on her neck.
“Atun is probably eight years old and she has had three babies, but one of them died after it got sick from being bitten by another monkey,” says another handler, Dede Irfan Saputra, who has just returned from panhandling with another monkey and is undressing it before caging it.
Cecep says the bigger cages are owned by the local “monkey bosses” who rent out the primates to handlers for Rp 15,000 ($1.70) per monkey per day, with the basic props of a mask and a costume.
The monkey owners charge an additional Rp 20,000 to rent out extra props such as a toy bicycle or musical instrument.
Handlers like Cecep and Nanang can expect to take home Rp 50,000 to Rp 70,000 after several hours of daytime performance on the sides of some of Jakarta’s busiest roads.
“That’s the net amount I get after transportation and monkey rental,” Cecep says, adding that he can make a little more during weekends.
Most of the time, the macaques’ diet consists solely of plain white rice. During performances, however, their handlers give them pieces of fruit or snacks that passersby hand out.
Both Cecep and Nanang say a distressed monkey poses some level of danger to the humans around it.
“The monkey can be dangerous if it’s handled by an unfamiliar handler who doesn’t deal with it on a daily basis like we do,” Cecep says.
“Unlike us, the foreign handler won’t know if the monkey is stressed, hungry or tired,” he adds. “Sometimes the monkeys can get irritated when children make fun of them. If we understand the monkeys, they will understand us back.”
Ending the Cruelty?
Pramudya Harzani, a spokesman for animal rights and welfare group Jakarta Animal Aid Network, is campaigning to put an end to the cruelty.
Pramudya says JAAN is frequently contacted by animal lovers indignant about the way the monkeys are being exploited in what is essentially a panhandling scheme.
Members of the group have traced the monkeys and their handlers to Kampung Monyet and identified at least three major bosses who own several monkeys that they rent out.
“Those monkeys go through hell to be trained to perform,” Pramudya says.
“They’re even poached from their mothers while they’re very young. This is obviously against the five principles of animal welfare,” he adds.
These five principles are guidelines relating to freedom from thirst and hunger, freedom from pain and disease, freedom to live in a suitable environment, freedom to express normal behaviors and freedom from fear and distress.
“We are very concerned about this situation. This is not entertainment, this is cruelty to animals,” Pramudya says.
He says it is important that people stop giving money to the monkeys or their handlers because doing so only encourages the practice.
He adds that JAAN has tried to raise the issue with the government by pointing out that ignoring this situation could have an adverse effect on human health, given that monkeys are potential carriers of numerous infectious diseases.
The long-tail macaques are not categorized as a protected or endangered species in Indonesia, but Pramudya says this is no excuse to overlook the trade and leave it unregulated.
“Don’t wait for them to become endangered or to cause a bigger problem before regulating them,” he says.