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Macaque positivity: perceptions are important!

Contributed by Brooke Aldrich, Deputy CEO of Asia for Animals Coalition and Lead Coordinator for the Macaque Coalition

Over the first week of May, International Macaque Week once again provided a platform for macaque advocates of all stripes to celebrate this fascinating, captivating group of primate species. Events were organized. Stories were told. Gorgeous photographs and works of art were shared with the world. Macaques are formidable wild animals, but also beautiful, smart, capable, emotional and fun to watch and to learn about!

The truth is, though, that macaques are in serious trouble. Human expansion continues to gobble up prime macaque habitat, driving some macaque species towards extinction. Others adapt to life in human-dominated environments, become more comfortable in our presence, and make themselves at home (because surely, they belong somewhere!). These macaques may be revered or they may be reviled - often both. Either way, we humans harm them in countless ways and in huge numbers.

Through well-intentioned acts like feeding, we actually encourage macaques to see us as sources of food, leading to dangerous encounters between humans and macaques. Through the simple need to feed ourselves, we grow crops, often on land that was once their habitat,  which they consume - because we’ve all got to make a living! We fail to secure our rubbish, and so they explore it, which to our eyes creates unacceptable, unsightly and sometimes hazardous messes. As macaques carry on their business within the ever-expanding boundaries of what we consider to be “ours”, we see more and more of them, we label them as “pests” - and they pay a heavy, heavy price. 

Macaques are often regarded as though they are problems to be solved. The attitudes and perceptions of people, governments, and institutions towards macaques shape our behavior in relation to them. Headlines refer to them as “brawling gangs” rather than acknowledging that they are individuals trying to survive in a tough world. Industries and governments view them as an abundant resource to be used at will, to the extent that entire species are at serious risk. Macaques are hunted, macaques are poisoned, baby macaques are taken from their families and sold as pets or tortured online for clicks and profit. Macaques are rounded up in huge numbers and placed in breeding farms, or shipped across the world for use as subjects for testing and research. 

International Macaque Week does not aim to tackle the horrors that are inflicted on macaques as a result of human practices and human preferences, at least not directly. What it does seek to do is to focus public attention on macaques in a positive light, to frame them as the fascinating, sentient, emotional and inherently valuable beings that they are, to shift negative perceptions, to expand understanding and to promote empathy. To keep this way of viewing macaques in the public eye. To reshape attitudes and sweeten perceptions. It’s only through a large-scale shift towards respect for and coexistence with macaques that the way we treat them will improve. Although we’ve posted and shared plenty of light-hearted content in recent weeks, there is good reason for this, and we look forward to promoting and celebrating macaque positivity throughout the year ahead! 

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