Exploring Macaque Synanthropy
Long-tailed macaques are faced with numerous threats. Many are the same as those of non-synanthropic species, yet many are a direct effect of their presence in human-influenced areas. Threats have included: habitat loss and degradation, logging, mining, aquaculture and agriculture, large-scale plantations and hydropower development, illegal and legal domestic and international trade, human expansion and urbanization, including dependence on human foods and conflicts with humans, hunting and poaching, genetic pollution and diseases from introduced macaques, use in traditional medicine, persecution as pests, and tourism activities. Long-tailed macaques are able to exploit anthropogenic areas across much of their range. They include cities, villages, roads, tourist sites, agriculture, and temple sites. In anthropogenic areas, long-tailed macaques are often provisioned, which increases population sizes locally. In these circumstances, they face human-macaque interactions, and risks of bi-directional pathogen transfer and other health issues, creating a platform for a range of conflict possibilities. In urban and recreational areas, long-tailed macaques are often provisioned on roads and therefore risk collision with vehicles.
Governments in countries with human-macaque conflicts are tasked with mitigating them, often with negative consequences for the macaques. Even though population sizes of long-tailed macaques are widely unknown, culling is a reoccurring practice across their range, and the number of individuals culled is often not revealed. The long-term implications of removing individuals from groups through culling and other forms of population control, harmful human activities such as trapping, and human-macaque interactions have yet to be fully investigated and understood. Culling individuals may also change group dynamics, affect individual health, change selection pressures and survival rates, and reduce cultural variability.
The interface with humans has also led to long-tailed macaques being classified as pests and as a ‘weed species’. Terminology applied by researchers regarding macaques may have important psychological and practical impacts on the field, discouraging students and others from focusing on this species, and restricting access to funding for their study (in behavioral, ecological and conservation contexts). Terminology such as weeds and pests might also affect local communities and tourists, convincing them that this species is not in need of conservation efforts or attention. Long-tailed macaques are perceived as common, and this may reduce conservation and research efforts. Primate conservation funding tends to prioritize primates classified as threatened with extinction, and the classification as ‘Least Concern’ on the IUCN Red List until 2020 has undoubtedly contributed to a lack of funding for research on this species.
The LTM Project hopes to create positive change in the field of primate research and conservation by allocating funding towards human-macaque interface research, piloting projects that will help mitigate human-macaque conflict, as well as investigating long-tailed macaque cultures and behavioral diversity.
Adapted from Hansen, M. F., Gill, M., Nawangsari, V. A., Sanchez, K. L., Cheyne, S. M., Nijman, V., & Fuentes, A. (2021). Conservation of Long-tailed Macaques: Implications of the Updated IUCN Status and the CoVID-19 Pandemic. Primate Conservation, 35, 1-11.