Birth control prescribed for Hong Kong monkeys

A A A

Wild monkeys don't seem to care that Hong Kong is a concrete jungle - they thrive so well on its fringes that the government has introduced birth control to curb a population boom.

Easy food handouts from some of the city's seven million humans helped push macaque numbers to more than 2,000 in recent years - and a rise in nuisance complaints about monkeys that have lost a natural fear of people.

"I think we still have plenty of space for wildlife. But the countryside and the city are adjacent to each other and sometimes there is conflict," said Chung-tong Shek of the government's conservation department.

Reports of aggressive monkeys chasing hikers for food, grabbing bags and reaching for pockets surfaced in recent years as the macaque population grew.

Stray monkeys with an acquired taste for human food still occasionally run about the crowded shopping districts of the city.

In April, one found its way to central Kowloon, near a strip of camera shops, hotels and fashion boutiques known locally as the Golden Mile.

"There is plenty of food inside the city in the garbage. Some of them get lost in the city...from time to time," Shek told AFP.

A decade-old feeding ban with the threat of a maximum HKD10,000 ($1,287) fine hardly dented the volumes of food on offer from well-wishers and tourists. So the government turned to birth control.

Early field tests were carried out in 2002, in the world's first contraceptive programme targeting a citywide population of macaques, using methods including vasectomies on males and temporary injections on females.

Now the programme focuses on the sterilisation of females, which is done about twice a month, bringing the total of monkeys permanently or temporarily neutered to more than 1,500.

The first problem was catching the monkeys.

All the monkeys are on the Kowloon peninsula especially around Kam Shan and Lion Rock country parks, with some outlying groups on the northwestern side of the territory.

"It's very hard for people to catch a monkey. We tried everything," said Sally Kong, a spokeswoman for the conservation department.

Net-guns, cage traps, live decoys, snares and dart guns were all used. But most methods could only be used a few times before the animals got wise to them.

Before long, monkeys even learned to recognise individual conservation department staff members and their vehicles, and avoided them all together.

Now large, baited cages are left open for days at a time, supplied by human feeders known and trusted by the monkeys.

"That way when we trap them in there they don't panic. They just keep on eating as they've been in there many times before," said Paolo Martelli, chief veterinarian with the Ocean Park Conservation Foundation, which is contracted to carry out the sterilisations.

"What we do is remove the tubes. Between the uterus and the ovaries there are small tubes that we cut out in very precise keyhole surgery. We go in, remove two pieces of tube and come out. It takes a few minutes," Martelli said.

"It's beneficial to maintain their ovaries intact because of the very important hormonal role they play," he explained.

Experts working on the project say the contraception plan is not about eliminating the macaques but is a conservation measure that makes it possible for the wild animals to continue existing on the city boundaries.

The programme has received backing from independent animal rights groups.

"Contraceptives are so much better than poisonings or other lethal methods that cause animals so much suffering," said Ashley Fruno, spokeswoman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in the Asia-Pacific region.

"This is another great example of non-lethal methods used to control wildlife populations."

The monkeys seen today in Hong Kong are believed to be the descendants of a few rhesus macaques released early last century to eat poisonous plants around a newly built reservoir supplying drinking water for the city.

The Strychnos plants are poisonous to humans but a favourite food for macaques, the conservation department says.

There isn't a specific target number for the city's wild monkey population, Shek told AFP, but nuisance calls have dropped from a peak of 1,400 in 2006 to less than 200 in the last couple of years.

"It really depends on what people can tolerate. Sometimes sighting a monkey is the reason for a person to call. This would be recorded as a nuisance complaint even if the monkey hasn't done anything," said Karthi Martelli, project manager with the Ocean Park conservation group.

"I always tell people: mind your monkey manners. When you're scared you do stupid things and people blame the monkeys. If you ignore the monkey and walk away they get bored too. They don't plot to attack," she said.

News
Alan Bennett has criticised the “repellent” reality shows which dominate our screens
tvBut he does like Stewart Lee
Life and Style
The Google Doodle celebrating the start of the first day of autumn, 2014.
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
News
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Life and Style
food + drink
News
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
News
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
news
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits