Sabah workshop explores peaceful co-existence with mischievous macaques

KOTA KINABALU: Mischievous macaques are posing a growing problem across Sabah.

Istana Negeri, housing estates, farms and villages were constantly raided by the macaques, leaving Sabah Wildlife Department rangers flustered in their efforts to control the primates that frequently outsmarted humans.

"If we put up traps and catch, say, about a dozen of them – that's all we will get," said department director Augustine Tuuga (pic).

"The others will never enter the trap. The monkeys are resourceful and they know how to take advantage of their environment," he said at a workshop on tackling the problem here on Monday (March 20).

The workshop was opened by state Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Christina Liew.

"In Sabah, the second most common human-wildlife conflict involves macaques. Nearly 30% of the conflicts handled by the department from 2012 to last year involved these monkeys," Tuuga said.

"Major areas of conflict are Beaufort, Kuala Penyu, Kota Kinabalu, Kota Belud, Tawau, Lahad Datu and Sandakan.

"These primates are translocated to other areas after being caught and released to thrive in the wild.

"From 2018 to last year, the department translocated 3,454 macaques," he said, adding that macaques were protected under the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997.

The solution, he said, was a comprehensive management plan for human-wildlife conflict that was escalating across Sabah with human settlements in close proximity to jungles and forests.

During the two-day workshop on "Managing People and Macaques in Shared Spaces", wildlife experts intend to draw up just such a plan which includes dos and don'ts for people who encounter macaques.

Tuuga said macaque raids had caused financial losses in terms of crop damage, among others, and in some cases people had also been attacked.

"Their presence also raises a public health concern through the possible transmission of zoonotic diseases," he added.

In her speech, Liew said proper management of discarding food waste was also necessary to tackle the problem.

"Urbanisation has resulted in the mass availability of discarded food from domestic and commercial use, and interaction between humans and wildlife through feeding.

"In general, the macaques are attracted to residential neighbourhoods, whether in the city or villages, to forage for edible scraps and waste.

"Improper garbage disposal and feeding of animals by well-meaning people further encourages macaques to frequent these spots," she said, adding that the mitigation strategies should include improved public awareness on macaque behaviour.

She said people should also be educated on the risks of feeding macaques and the pressing need for proper disposal of food waste.

Workshop speakers include International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) primate specialist group on human-primate interaction representative Dr Felicity Oram and Danau Girang Field Centre director Professor Benoit Goossens.

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