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Image by Artem Bryzgalov


Macaques in zoos

Macaques of many species are regularly kept in zoos around the world, sometimes in facilities that pride themselves on their standard of animal care. Unfortunately, there are also thousands of low-standard zoos and similar facilities, and macaques can be found in many of these. All too frequently, they are housed in barren cages, alone or in inappropriate groups. In some cases, they are trained to perform or used as photo props (see Use as Performers/Entertainers) and provided with inadequate diets and poor veterinary care, which can lead to illness and suffering. They may be fed by or otherwise interact with visitors, placing both monkeys and humans at risk of disease or injury. They may be mishandled by staff for the entertainment of visitors. Many are wild-caught. If born in the facility, infants are regularly taken from their mothers unnecessarily and hand-reared, resulting in poor social skills in those individuals that survive to adulthood.

All animals need to be able to express a range of natural behaviours. The inability to do so for extended periods of time causes them to suffer and can lead to permanent psychological or physiological damage. In captivity, every aspect of a wild animal’s life - diet, veterinary care, social environment, and physical environment (including temperature, light, sound, quality and quantity of space) must be carefully considered in light of how that species has evolved and what the animal’s natural behaviours are. While some macaques are quite hardy, and can physically survive in conditions where primates of other species would not, all have the capacity to suffer immensely. Repetitive behaviours, hyper-aggression or hyper-submissiveness, self-injury, and lethargy are amongst the common signs that a monkey has experienced (or is experiencing) prolonged trauma.

Mitgating welfare issues


Organisations like Wild Welfare work to improve captive animal welfare in substandard facilities, encouraging good practice while also working at a policy level towards more effective animal welfare legislation. Wild Welfare works from the position that “ a positive, inclusive approach rather than negative condemnation is key to making a difference to the lives of wild animals in captivity.”

The Animals Asia Foundation provides educational workshops and advice to Chinese and Vietnamese zoos and safari parks in order to help them meet the health and welfare needs of captive animals, while campaigning for improvements to captive animal care in public facilities throughout the country.

Malaysian organisation Friends of the Orangutans conducts investigations and exposees of captive facilities, including zoos, all over the region.

Community groups interested in improving conditions for macaques and other animals at their local zoos could consider asking management about implementing enrichment-building days. Guidelines for safe and effective primate enrichment can be found online, but for the safety of the animals, it is imperative that any enrichment-building activities are overseen by a professional. Visit International Animal Rescue’s website for an interesting overview of one macaque enrichment project.  

To access our macaque husbandry resources, please visit Macaques in captivity: resources - and see the AfA Sanctuaries and Rescue Centers Coalition (SARCC) website! 
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