No more will macaque monkeys, many wearing doll’s heads as masks, be forced to dance on their hind legs, ride tiny bicycles or carry parasols in the streets of Jakarta. Joko Widodo, the Governor of Indonesia’s capital city, has vowed that there will be no more “topeng monyet” (masked monkey) shows in the streets of the city by 2014.
Widodo says that the shows in which the monkeys are made to perform amount to animal abuse. He also notes that eliminating the shows is in the interest of public order, as the monkeys are often made to perform at congested intersections where motorists slow down to watch them.
40 monkeys rescued in 2011 by Jakarta Animal Aid Network with the city government’s aid had tuberculosis, hepatitis, tetanus (from the chains growing into their skin) and other diseases. Banning the dancing monkeys is a necessary public health measure, Widodo says.
The city government is planning to buy back all the monkeys for about $90 each. They are unable to live in the wild and even among other primates — the monkey are trained from babyhood to stand on their hind legs by being hung on chains, animal advocates say — and will be sheltered at a 2.5 acre preserve at Jakarta’s Ragunan Zoo.
Jakarta Animal Aid Network estimates that, every year, thousands of long-tailed macaques are bred or captured from the wild to be used as street performers. The organization has cheered on Widodo for keeping his promise and is also seeking donations to buy an island that could become a release site for rescued monkeys.
While Widodo’s ban has been widely praised, some have raised concerns that, with monkeys now banned, the government still needs to take similarly drastic steps to address the issue of child labor and, in particular, street children. The writer of Indonesian Street Life argues that the government banned monkey shows because it was concerned first about its “international image” and that many more children are routinely exploited and forced to beg by adults.
Others contend that Widodo has instituted the topeng monyet ban to burnish his reputation “as a can-do politician cleaning up one of Asia’s most frenetic cities” in the year before presidential elections that voters widely expect him to run in. The ban is seen as “an unusual departure from the big, bold initiatives” — a much-delayed subway system, relocating illegal street vendors to reduce congestion — that Widodo has so far proposed, to address the corruption and wrenching poverty that directly affect the lives of Jakarta’s 10 million residents.
Acknowledging that “the issue of monkey buskers is just a small one,” Eko Hariadi, a spokesman for the Jakarta administration, says that it still needs to be addressed as smaller ones.
Monkey Handlers Protest Even As Another City Announces a Ban
Many of the macaques used in the street performances are raised in a slum in East Jakarta that is known as “monkey village.” Monkey owners are none too pleased about the new ban; some 700 people in East Jakarta alone rely on the monkeys for their livelihood. Sarinah, a mother of three, protests that she treats the monkeys, her “source of life,” like her own children and claims she will hide the rest of her monkeys until she finds a new job.
Government officials such as Ipih Ruyani, head of the city’s marine and agriculture office, insist that the funds paid to monkey handlers can be “used as capital for their business.” Widodo’s administration has said that it will provide vocational training for the monkey handlers and caretakers.
The major of Bandung, the provincial capital of West Java, has also announced plans to ban monkey shows there as well.
Topeng monyet is disappearing from Indonesia and for the better. Rather than allow monkeys to be trained and used in such cruel acts, the government is doing the right thing to ban the shows outright and, thereby, to require people to seek another way of living. It is commendable that there are plans for the rescued monkeys.
Now the government must directly address how to provide for the working poor who have had to quickly adjust to a new way to support themselves and their families.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons