Rogue monkey pesters kindergarten

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 April, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 April, 2004, 12:00am

Teachers are worried the primate will turn on children

Park rangers are trying to trap a monkey that is pestering children and teachers in a rural Sai Kung kindergarten.

The male monkey has been scavenging for food at the Leapfrog Playgroup in Sai Kung Country Park and on one occasion ran across the school roof as children played outside.

Teachers are now worried the grey macaque monkey may try to grab biscuits or sweets from the children, aged one to five, when they sit outside for their morning snack break.

Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) officers were called in by the school and have set up a trap baited with bananas on the perimeter of the kindergarten's playground to try to snare the primate during the Easter holiday break.

One member of staff said: 'The first time I saw him was on March 5. He was hanging around in the trees checking out the area where the children have their snacks.

'He has obviously figured out there is food there and he doesn't seem to be at all scared of humans.'

When the monkey ran across the roof, the children were ushered into a classroom while staff used a hose to scare the animal away, she said. About 40 children attend the school every morning.

The school employee added: 'On another occasion I got the fright of my life when he slid down a pole next to the school's entrance gate. He was only an arm's length away from me.

'He's not a hardcore nuisance and he hasn't shown any aggression but obviously we are concerned he may turn aggressive if he tries to take a biscuit off a toddler and the toddler won't give it up.'

Officers from the agriculture department set a trap on the last day of term. Staff have been checking on it every day but the monkey has not been sighted since the trap was put in place.

Susanna Ho Shuk-han, senior information officer for the agricultural department, said: '[Officers] immediately contacted the teacher in charge of the kindergarten. We agreed to set up a trap to catch this nuisance monkey.

'If the monkey is caught, it will be sent to AFCD's Animal Management Centre for a health check and temporary keeping. AFCD will contact zoos or primate centres overseas or on the mainland for long-term keeping of stray monkeys caught in Hong Kong.'

The number of nuisance monkey cases in the Sai Kung area had risen sharply from seven in 2002 to 19 last year, Ms Ho said.

She said part of the reason had been the setting up of a government hotline - 1823 - which made it easier to report cases.

The department implemented a feeding ban in 1999, with fines of up to $10,000. Two years ago, it began a population control programme, injecting 20 female monkeys in Kam Shan Country Park with a contraceptive vaccine.

Latest estimates put Hong Kong's monkey population at about 1,500.