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  • Dec 20, 2014
  • Updated: 9:05am
NewsHong Kong
ENVIRONMENT

Hong Kong's monkey population increasingly harassing hikers and residents for food

Academic says there are too many macaques and they are overdependent on humans who feed them despite the threat of prosecution

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 August, 2014, 5:49am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 August, 2014, 7:47pm
 

While the Planet of the Apes films may be nothing more than Hollywood fantasy, Hongkongers could be forgiven for feeling like they live in a City of the Monkeys.

And while the city's 2,000 or so feral macaques may lack the super-intelligence that drives their big-screen counterparts - back in cinemas with the new film Dawn of the Planet of the Apes - they can send hikers and residents nuts.

Despite efforts to control them, the monkeys eagerly chase country park visitors for food and have even strayed into teeming urban areas like Mong Kok and Tsim Sha Tsui.

In the latest incident last week, one was nabbed outside a Lam Tin public library.

"They are taking over," said an elderly hiker who regularly frequents the monkeys' main domain at Kam Shan, popularly known as "Monkey Hill".

"They are annoying … one pushed my bag when they saw bread peeking out," said the hiker

The problem persists despite more than a decade of efforts to keep the population in check.

Last year, the number of monkey nuisance complaints to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department rose to 529, the highest in the past five years. Of these cases, 206 were in Sha Tin alone.

The problem stemmed from the fact that monkeys had become dependent on humans for food, and there may not be enough food in the environment to sustain them, said Professor David Dudgeon, head of the University of Hong Kong's department of ecology and biodiversity.

"If monkeys grow up knowing that people are their source of food, they won't go back to the way they 'should' behave," Dudgeon said. "You get monkeys that have always been fed by humans ... they won't even know how to go out to hunt for food."

The government banned the feeding of wild monkeys in 1999, setting a maximum fine of HK$10,000. But the ban applies only within Kam Shan and its surrounding country park areas, and those convicted have been fined an average of just HK$500 to HK$1,000.

Dudgeon said the fine needed to be raised and the ban better enforced and extended to areas beyond the parks.

Between 2009 and last year, 547 people were prosecuted for illegal feeding, mostly of monkeys. The ban is enforced by officers who patrol the park roughly once a day.

To reduce their dependence on humans, the government planted 200,000 fruit trees across the park between 2001 and 2008.

Yet the trees only produced fruit from May to October, leaving monkeys reliant on other food sources for much of the year, Dudgeon said. Although plants bore fruit during the rest of the year in shrublands, their fruits were small, and monkeys did not typically occupy those areas, he added.

Hungry and bold, the monkeys typically stray to the edges of residential areas near the parks. However in recent years, monkeys have begun straying further, with some even getting into the bustling heart of the city.

"We don't know the reason, but they suddenly appear in the middle of the city," said Shek Chung-tong, an officer from the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department.

Monkeys can also act aggressively because they are unafraid of humans. In the past, monkeys have snatched food from people, broken into buildings and even stolen food from convenience stores, according to Shek.

It's been a while, however, since a monkey matched the feat of a macaque who, in 2001, led police on a 10-hour chase through Tsim Sha Tsui.

To stabilise the population, the government sterilised 2,790 monkeys between 2007 and last year, bringing the population down by about 15 per cent to 2,000.

An unintended side effect of sterilisation was that some females now lived longer because they didn't have to breed anymore, Shek said. The average life span of a macaque is about 25 years.

"But the situation is much better than before," Shek said.

According to Dudgeon, the monkeys thrive because of both human feeding and Hong Kong's benign environment, but the population now exceeds what the forests are able to support.

"In the short term, the nuisance won't go away and might get worse," Dudgeon said. "Eventually, if the feeding stops and sterilisation continues, the numbers will decline but that will take time."

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This article is now closed to comments

HK-Explorer
I go hiking up lion rock often and see the monkeys. Not nearly as bad as this article makes it seem. Normally just up in the trees or run across the path. I am sure a city of 7 million people can put up with 2,000 monkeys. Part of the enjoyment of hiking is to see wildlife. Who wants to climb a Barron rock.
blue
I am loving seeing the two wu mao "heavyweight" commenters, captam and req, having an argument over monkeys. Personally I am siding with captam on this debate.
captam
@ req: "Also, they're not native to these woods"
And neither are you!
This is the only available habitat for these wonderful creatures in Hong Kong, so why not give them some space and take your young kids to your nearest playground if you can't deal with "stinking monkeys" when you take the kids for a walk.
There are plenty of other country parks without trespassing on the monkey's small patch.
sienna.lai
I have to go along with HK-Explorer here. However, HK people have always impressed me with their ability to over-react to just about any situation. This is no different. The monkeys ARE afraid of humans .. we are, in fact, the most dangerous creature on the planet after all. (just look at what we do to each other!!)
Just wave your walking stick/cane around a bit .. they'll run off.
Sometimes .. we just need to get over ourselves, I guess?
Dai Muff
But are these monkeys "loyal" and "patriotic"? This is the question.
chaz_hen
HK's "Silent Majority" demands the culling of these monkeys and having their meat sold to local McD's to serve to the wu mao brigades enjoying free a/c and wifi
rogergraham@gmail.com
Is req actually one of these monkeys, who has (almost) learned to read and type English?
It's the Rise of the Planet of the Monkeys!
ejmciii
I will take that as a "yes," tool. Freaking waste product.
rogergraham@gmail.com
Haha, how easily and predictably baited you are :-)
Poor req.
caractacus
The macaques, an introduced species, become habituated and fearless of people leading to aggressive behaviour because humans feed them. The big males can be over 15 kgs with large fangs and claws, capable of inflicting serious injury. One large male at Hoi Ha in Sai Kung regularly mugs visitors, snatching bags with or without food in them.
Not all are a nuisance. In the forest areas most tend to rely on natural sources of food.
A cull of nuisance animals together with stronger enforcement and enhanced public education is needed. As usual, the stupidity of humans is the main problem.

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