Monkey custody stirs debate

Alan Lee

Chinese medicine hawker Chan Yat-biu, 90, became the centre of heated debate when his four-year-old pet monkey, Kam Ying, was confiscated by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department last month.

Mr Chan, also known as 'Uncle Bill', has learned that Kam Ying is now living happily with other monkeys at a Sheung Shui animal centre and learning survival techniques from them. Nonetheless, he is still engulfed by sadness whenever he thinks of his old companion.

Recently he was allowed to visit Kam Ying and had to fight back tears.

'I saw a big monkey holding her. They were locked inside a huge cage. She looked like she was crying.

'I've gone through all types of hardships in my time, but never before have I been so depressed.' Born in Guangdong, Mr Chan was sold as a child labourer at the age of 12 and eventually settled in Hong Kong. When he got older he started hawking Chinese medicine made from a family recipe.

As was common practice for Chinese medicine hawkers, he began travelling around with a pet monkey in order to attract customers' attention.

'It was very easy to get monkeys in the old days,' Mr Chan said. ' In some bird shops they were sold for $30.' With the passage of time, his reputation spread and he became a local celebrity in Kowloon City. For years, he worked with monkeys by his side.

'I always trained them at home,' he recalled with joy. 'I trained them to jump around and when I counted 'one, two, three', they would salute.

'Sometimes people gave me monkeys to train. Sometimes film companies asked me to lend them monkeys for movies.' To Mr Chan, monkeys were like members of the family. 'I've always treated them like my sons and daughters, especially Kam Ying.

'I love her. She lived in a cage in my bedroom, but it is not locked, it's like a room for her. We have meals together where she eats rice and fruit.' The memory of the day Kam Ying was seized still haunts him and prevents him from sleeping.

'The inspector said someone had complained about me keeping Kam Ying and being cruel to her.

'She is so nice and she listens to me. She would never hurt anyone, not even a child. She is so disciplined and she would never have bitten anyone. Why did that person complain? Why did they take away Kam Ying?' Mr Chan said with tears in his eyes.

'My dad would spend more time with the monkey than with me each day,' said Yiu-wing, 47, Mr Chan's son, as he put his arm around his father. 'I just wish they would give Kam Ying back to my father. You know, it's meaningless to let him visit Kam Ying, but refuse to give her back. It's like showing you a precious thing you've lost, then telling you, 'don't touch'.'