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Welfare in rescue centers

When laws against the keeping of macaques are enforced, or the monkeys are given up voluntarily by their owners, options for their future are limited.  Release into the wild is sometimes a possibility, but in some cases, causes more problems than it solves (for example, when insufficent or no disease screening is performed. Also, see release of ex-pets).  Euthanasia may be culturally unacceptable, and also can raise issues when a species of conservation concern is involved.  Additionally, in some areas, enforcement relies heavily on public reporting, which would cease if the public knew their reports resulted in the deaths of the animals concerned. For these reasons, surrendered macaques are often sent to rescue centers.  

Rescue centers that house primates may be run by governments, local or international NGOs, or privately. There is a great variety in the quality of care that animals receive in such facilities; they may be run by highly qualified and experienced professionals, or by poorly trained and unmotivated staff with high levels of turnaround. There may be licensing or minimum welfare regulations that must be adhered to.  Resident macaques may or may not receive adequate veterinary care.  Enclosures may or may not be suitable for long-term residents.  


In many places, rescue centers are overrun with macaques and unable to take in more without conpromising the welfare of all concerned. Yet, some government rescue centers are required to take animals regardless of capacity.  Overcrowding is exacerbated by the birth of further macaques within the centers; rescued individuals are housed in groups without contraceptive measures in place.  Expansion of a rescue center’s capacity depends on access to resources, yet cannot solve overcrowding issues unless the flow of macaques headed into the centers is stemmed.  

When rescue centers are full, and can neither take no more macaques in nor provide them with an adequate quality of life, the enforcement of laws prohibiting the keeping of macaques becomes more difficult. The public may be hesitant to report pet keeping to the authorities (or to hand over their pets themselves)  if the conditions in the rescue centers are as poor as those in people’s homes, regardless of the law.  This can lead to meaningless legislation, to the continuation of the trade in pet macaques, and to the inappropriate release of pet macaques by either owners or the authorities.   

Mitigating welfare issues in rescue centers

The single best way to eliminate welfare issues in rescue centers is to eliminate the need for rescue centers. Wherever possible, such centers should work in tandem with governments, community groups, schools or NGOs to put an end to the practices that mean such centers are necessary. However, the current reality of the situation is that more such centers are needed in order to cope with demand. Some considerations for improving welfare in rescue centers are detailed below.


When demand exceeds availability, difficult decisions must be made. Accepting more individuals than can be reasonably housed can unacceptably compromise the welfare of all residents. Yet to turn an animal away is to guarantee that that individual’s suffering continues. There is no clear and easy one-size-fits-all answer to this problem, but all rescue centers should be prepared to make informed decisions when the time inevitably comes. 


If physical expansion is possible, staff capacity should also be considered. The required staff-to-animal ratio will vary depending on facility design, normal protocols, special needs of individual macaques, and staff experience.  

It is incredibly important that macaques are integrated into social groups. However, this is a delicate process and should be carried out with the guidance of experienced professionals.  Contraception should be implemented before introducions are made, to avoid the birth of individuals who would fill precious space and restrict the center’s ability to rescue more macaques. See Population Control for information about some options. In a captive context, there may be yet other options - for example, oral contraceptives and implants have been used successfully with some monkey species in captivity. Be aware that there are differences even between closely-related macaque species in the effectiveness of different chemical contraceptives.

Husbandry protocols

Protocols should be developed in consultation with people who have species-specific captive care expertise and a good understanding of the species’ ecology. Animal care staff should be well-trained and encouraged to carry on learning about the species of macaque and the individuals that they are caring for. While some protocols can be generalised across macaque species, there may be different requirements for diet, physical space or social grouping.  Similarly, protocols may differ based upon an individual’s age and history, health, and whether the individual is a candidate for release. 


Protocols should consider:

  • Quarantine period and disease screening - new arrivals should be declared disease and parasite free before sharing space with resident macaques. 

  • Integration procedures - how are plans made for forming social groups, and who supervises this work?

  • Criteria for release - is this individual releasable? Is there a suitable release site? Will they be released as part of a group? How should this individual’s care differ in light of their status as releasable or non-releasable?

  • Contraception - how will births be prevented? If the individual is releasable, should they still be neutered?

  • Regular health checks and veterinary care - how often, who, and how?

  • Composition and distribution of food and water - suitable diet, constant supply of clean water, food distributed in a way that encourages natural behaviour and does not cause social disruption

  • Fighting - some aggression is to be expected as macaques establish and maintain their social order. When and how will carers intervene? 

  • Enrichment - how will macaques be encouraged to perform natural behaviours and avoid boredom and the development of abnormal behaviour? Does this differ between releasable and non-releasable individuals?

  • Physical environment - how to ensure that each macaque is provided with species-specific opportunities for climbing, foraging, hiding, sleeping in the ways that they are naturally adapted?

  • Observation - how will the physical, social and psychological health of the macaques be assessed?

  • Veterinary care - how will veterinary emergencies be handled?

  • Euthanasia - will euthanasia be carried out? If so, under what circumstances?

  • Finance - is the center adequately funded to care for all of its current residents long-term? Is there long-term financial support to care for more animals?

  • Management - who makes the decisions about animal care, and who carries them out?

  • Disaster planning - Are there procedures in place in case of fire, flooding, earthquakes or other natural disasters?


There are currently no rehabilitation and release guidelines available that are specific to macaques. However, there are several sets of guidelines for other primate species. Some of the information available in these guidelines may be transferable to macaques:

Also see Release of Ex-Pets and Welfare in Zoos

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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