Animal rights groups want to stop the use of performing monkeys in Indonesia, but it's the only way some people can makea living.
Sunday, May 1, 2011 - 20:28

Many people will find Dateline's pictures of performing monkeys in chains in Indonesia shocking, but for those trying to eke out a living in the capital, Jakarta, it seems perfectly acceptable.

It's because there's money to be made in training and renting out the performing animals, and taking them round the streets to perform for passers-by and children.

But the Jakarta Animal Aid Network says the monkey business has to stop, and it's not only the monkeys that are being exploited by their owners, but also the street orphans who use them to scrape a living.

Video journalist David O'Shea uncovers the uncomfortable mix of human suffering and animal suffering.

WATCH - Click to see his report.

EXTRA - Find out about the work of the Jakarta Animal Aid Network and read more about this story.

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There is a common sight on the streets of Jakarta, trained monkeys who beg for food for their often impoverished handlers. It is a trade that seems harmless enough until you realise that the primates were not long ago swinging free in the jungles of Sumatra. David O'Shea has been examining the monkey business that has animal rights activists up in arms.

REPORTER: David O'Shea

It is a new day in the Indonesian capital and for millions of people struggling to eke out a living here, it is back to the daily grind. In the procession of human commuters this long-tailed macaque is off to work as well.

Born wild in the jungles of Sumatra, she is now forced to beg by the side of the road. Her handler, who makes her wear a doll's mask, targets the areas with the worst traffic jams, and then waits for passing motorists to give money. There is little reward for effort in this business, so far only a mandarin.

REPORTER (Translation): No one's giving you any money.

HANDLER (Translation): I have to be patient when it is like this.

REPORTER (Translation): Is it usually like this?

HANDLER (Translation): Yes it is but one or two people are sure to give me something.

Not far away, another long-tailed macaque is getting ready for work. To get there, Atun and her handlers have to dice with death on this chaotic streets. Atun is not a roadside beggar, but instead, works the neighbourhoods performing for children. She is reluctant to get started though, and needs to be egged on with a yank on the chain.

FEMKE DEN HAAS, JAKARTA ANIMAL AID NETWORK: In Indonesia, the attitude to animals in general is that you can do anything with them that you want, what life is there for us to use.

Femke Den Haas is from the Jakarta Animal Aid Network, she is campaigning to have the macaques listed as endangered and to stop them being used in this way.

FEMKE DEN HAAS: Macaques are just like great apes. - they are self-aware and they are highly intelligent and social. We do not have to look at the data on are they endangered or not. Just for ethical reasons, they should not be used on the street and going through so much cruelty. They should be living in the wild.

The whole dancing monkey's performance is a wrong type of education. It is showing children that it is OK to exploit animals, to beat animals, to put them in chains and to use them as a toy. They are being used as a puppet. These monkeys are so frightened that they would do anything their owners ask them. You see their frustration - sometimes they are biting themselves. Children think that is funny - they say look they are biting themselves because they see them as puppets. They never get any education that this is a living being - they used to live in a family and has feelings or nothing.

Today's performance finishes early because a link in the chain has broken and they do not want to risk her escaping.

REPORTER (Translation): Is there a danger that she will bite someone?

HANDLER (Translation): Yes, when she is not chained up she bites a lot of kids. It's tiring work, we are out in the heat and we earn at most Rp 10,000. We go home and spend it and do the same again the next day. It's like this every day.

They earn only a little over a dollar a day but the boys say they do not have other options. They are both orphans and this is the only life they know. They have been working with monkeys since they were just three years old.

HANDLER (Translation): We have no parents, so we earn money for food, now we are grown up we still work with the monkey. We earn Rp 1000 or 2000 so we can eat.

They tell me that Atun is like an old friend.

HANDLER (Translation): We played together as kids and now we are grown up, we have never changed monkeys, we always work with this one - she's our mate, a real mate we are a family.

Not all monkeys there are as lucky as Atun. Femke Den Haas tells me that the Jakarta Animal Aid Network is desperate to stop street kids using monkeys to beg. And this means stopping those people who prey on the street children by renting them the trained monkeys as begging props.

FEMKE DEN HAAS: The children have to pay a certain amount of money each day to the owner of the monkey. The owner is just this guy that keeps monkeys in poor conditions next to his house in different locations in Jakarta and he brings them out to these poor street children and if the street children do not come back with enough money, or if there is a problem with the monkey, or if the monkey escapes or whatever, the street children have a problem.

Hartono is one of the men she is talking about. He has been in the monkey business for 14 years. He keeps them in cages next to his house and rents them out at a day rate. He even has baby monkeys, born here in a cage, although I'm told the survival rate is not good.

REPORTER (Translation): I hear they often die, why is that?

HARTONO (Translation): They get old and sick.

REPORTER (Translation): But young ones die too.

HARTONO (Translation): Sometimes it is stress or they are fed the wrong thing, sometimes they find leftover mosquito coils, they eat it and die.

Hartono buys monkeys which have already been trained by this man, Panjul, I joined him at the animal market in East Jakarta. He is on the hunt for new stock. He looks for monkeys which are about 3-4 months old, because he says they are the easiest to train.

PANJUL (Translation): This one is already too old, the one down there is an adult - it would be difficult.

For a country with so many endangered and protected animals, it is incredible that they are all for sale down these side streets. Panjul eventually finds a suitable monkey but because the vendor did not want to be filmed making the sale he only shows me once we have moved away. In four months' time, once he has taught him a repertoire of tricks, this monkey will be worth five times what he just paid. So now it is off home to start the training.

The first thing the new monkey has to learn is to stand like a human, with his hands tied behind his back so he cannot climb the chain, he will be kept like this until his leg muscles develop.

PANJUL (Translation): We hand them up like this for a week to ten days so they can stand up and walk like humans - it is the first stage of training. When they are strong enough, I hang them up overnight. They are fine, they can cope.

Panjul starts them off like this for two hours and then gradually increases it to five and then 10 hours a day. At that point the chain will be so tight he will be standing on tiptoes.

REPORTER (Translation): Don't their legs hurt when they are like that, monkeys are not used to standing like that, are they?

PANJUL (Translation): No, they are not used to it, they just get stiff, it doesn't hurt.

He says he understands why people think it is cruel. Panjul has monkeys at various stages of training. This one has been learning the ropes for a month now, it will take another three or four months before it is ready to work.

PANJUL (Translation): I've been introducing him to different toys, but he is still stressed and crying out because he hasn't been doing it for long.

He is currently learning to do a somersault and to salute, eventually he will be as competent as Panjul's smartest monkeys. He can be easily distinguished by the boot polish that Panjul has painted on his head. He knows the whole routine and can do all the tricks, including the military commander pose, but best of all he is not frightened of the children. In short, for the man who rents him out for the day, he is a money-making machine.

REPORTER (Translation): Do some people complain "œThe poor thing belongs in the jungle." What do you tell them?

MAN (Translation): I tell them it's terrible in the jungle, here they are tamed.

REPORTER (Translation): Why is it terrible in the jungle?

MAN (Translation): They haven't been trained.

The long-tailed macaque is not yet listed as an endangered species even though the Jakarta Animal Aid Network has lobbied for this. Femke Den Haas is so frustrated with the lack of progress she is about to broaden the campaign.

FEMKE DEN HAAS: We really wanted to solve this locally. We never wanted to set up a big campaign, but now we are - now we are at the point of saying - we have tried everything on a local level - it is all empty promises - nothing is changing - more and more monkeys are being used. We see baby monkeys, we see mothers with weaning babies on the streets. It is unacceptable and we do need international pressure to end this.

But for Atun's controllers, this is just the way it is done.

REPORTER (Translation): Do some people get angry and say "œpoor monkey".

HANDLER (Translation): Yes, sometimes when we perform people say "œBe careful. Poor monkey. Don't torture it." But she is a performing monkey and it's a tradition. This is how we do it.

MARK DAVIS: David O'Shea filming and reporting there. Go to our website to tell us your thoughts on that story, and any of tonight's other reports. And there is a link to more information on the Jakarta animal aid network at






Kanthi Andayani






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1st May 2011