In the Fight Against Animal Abuse, Indonesian Govt Is Seen on the Sidelines
Animal shows have long been regarded as tourist attractions but a growing awareness of animal welfare may soon put an end to them, including the traveling topeng monyet , or masked-monkey, performances found on the streets of Jakarta.
David van Gennep, executive director of AAP, a Netherlands-based European rescue center and sanctuary for primates and other exotic mammals, said his institution had received more complaints from Dutch tourists about the street monkey performances over the past few years.
“Foreign tourists don’t like it,” he said. “Most of them turn away because they don’t find it entertaining or amusing at all. On the contrary, they find it disgusting and cruel. It is a bad image for Jakarta.”
Van Gennep said AAP received more complaints about the street monkeys in Jakarta than about any other specific animal welfare issue.
The monkeys are primarily used by people to panhandle, and van Gennep said he understood the issue of topeng monyet shows was related to the twin problems of poverty and unemployment.
“We don’t want to attack them while helping the animals,” he said. “A good social program can be helpful to replace the income that they get from panhandling. There should be a solution, not just for the human but also for the animal.”
Wiwiek Bagja, a veterinarian and chairwoman of the Indonesian Veterinary Medical Association, said panhandling using monkeys was the result of poverty, the lack of regulations against animal cruelty and the abundance of long-tailed monkeys that can easily be caught in the forest.
The monkeys live in close proximity to their handlers in slum areas in Jakarta, Wiwiek said, which is not only bad for the monkeys but poses a major public health risk. Monkeys are known to carry zoonosis, any infectious disease that can be transmitted between animals and humans. Zoonosis diseases include tuberculosis, leptospirosis, hepatitis B and C, herpes, tetanus and worms.
“There should be a regulation to deter this practice [of monkeys living near humans], especially in Jakarta, which has a very dense population,” she said. “A monkey is not the type of animal that would normally be in a human’s life, and it is not a domesticated animal. It is unnatural for them to live among an urban population.”
The Jakarta Animal Aid Network, an animal welfare rights advocacy group, said it has been working with the city to seize monkeys from panhandlers in some areas of Jakarta since March. It said the campaign began after it received the endorsement of Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo for its efforts to put an end to the practice of topeng monyet and rehabilitate the monkeys before releasing them back into the wild.
“We are still waiting for the Jakarta administration to issue a bylaw that would prohibit topeng monyet performances,” said JAAN activist Pramudya Harzani.
Van Gennep said AAP also received complaints about other wild animals being exploited for tourist performances in other parts of the world. That includes animals that are being held by institutions operating under the guise of conservation. Some of those groups, for example, allow people to ride on the backs of elephants.
“When you train a wild animal to have people ride on its back, it is not conservation,” he said. “There is a big difference in training a domesticated animal and a wild animal. The wild one will always resist training.”
Van Gennep said that the methods used to train wild animals included breaking them down by depriving them of food, putting them at risk of death.
“If it survived, the training can start because its will to survive has already been broken,” van Gennep said. “It became submissive to the trainer because it just wants to survive.”
He added that some European tour operators have joined the fight and refuse to book packages to countries that allow animals to be exploited.
Wiwiek said the unbalanced ecosystem in the country had resulted in the movement of wild animals to the point that they had become dependent on humans.
“They can be kept in captivity as long as we have the financial means and the legal support to regulate the interaction between humans and animals,” she said.
Indonesia doesn’t have any regulations that tell humans how to treat animals, nor are there laws to prevent animal cruelty. The 2009 Law on Husbandry and Animal Welfare comes closest.
A proposed government regulation on veterinary public health and animal welfare that would impose administrative sanctions for violations to animal’s welfare has yet to be signed by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
“The government should come up with better legal infrastructure to instill humane behavior toward wild animals,” Wiwiek said.