Having completed, and published a research paper in 2010 on the subject matter have taught us four valuable lessons about this ongoing monkey business in our forest fringes.
Firstly, humans are responsible in perpetuating the brazen behaviors of the macaques. Persistent urban and transport development have fragmented the forests, limiting wild animals’ ability to forage. The encroaching private housing into the forest fringes has also resulted in animals having more intimate interactions with humans. Conflicts are hence inevitable, particularly if humans fail to interact with wildlife ethically. For example, the indiscriminate feeding of the macaques had conditioned the macaques to be reliant on humans for food.
Second, animal activists and NParks have made commendable efforts in “monkey-proofing” these forest fringes. The onus is on the residents to adjust their everyday practices conscientiously to reduce incidence of animal-human conflicts in their homes. Adding nettings might reinforce the window grills so as to prevent intrusions.
Third, it is also important for residents to be familiar with the often-misinterpreted behaviors exhibited by the macaques. The baring of their teeth is often taken as aggressiveness, but in fact it is a sign of fear. Residents of urban fringes often complain that monkeys are snatching food from passers-by holding plastic bags. Using recyclable bags would minimize such occurrences. We have personally experiment this during the course of our field work and did not have any monkeys chasing after our recyclable bag full of chips and soda.
Fourth, although ‘…culling is an accepted practice internationally…’, we argue that it is a problematic solution that is highly unsustainable. The act of culling is an affront to animal welfare and the wider biodiversity. There is a more complex question of how much culling is enough. Put crudely, culling is not a science but a cruel art.
Ultimately, residents who live in the forest fringes must negotiate and adapt to their immediate environment. It is ironic that a residents, like Mr Han claims that his family members are “virtual prisoners” in their homes when residents have the option to relocate, as much as they had taken the choice to move into the forest fringes in the first place. Do the macaques possess such options like humans?
The human-macaque conflicts in our urban fringes provide key learning points for urban geography and environmental studies. More needs to be done, be it from student-initiated interest groups or governmental bodies, to address the issue and ensure that ecological well-being is not further compromised by human interests.
Author: Yeo Jun Han, Raffles Girls’ School & Harvey Neo, National University of Singapore
 “Do More to curb monkey population”, Straits Times, October 2013.