Wildlife Photographer of the Year: leading change to ban dancing monkeys
This image of a captive monkey wearing a gaudy mask can be hard to look at.
But photographer Joan de la Malla's work has brought attention to the practice of dancing monkeys, leading to the Indonesian government banning the activity and rescuing the primates from a life on the streets.
Long-tailed macaques (Macaca
They're found in a wide range of habitats, including lowland rainforests shrubland, coastal regions
This also means that they often come into contact with people.
It is thought that hundreds - if not thousands - of macaques are taken from the forests of Indonesia every year. Many of these end up as pets sold in local animal markets, but some are bought for Topeng Monyet, the local practice of dancing monkeys.
The primates are trained - often harshly - to perform tricks. These include wearing doll and clown heads as masks, standing upright and 'riding' bikes. All of these behaviours are unnatural to the macaques and require intense training. The social animals are typically kept on their own, usually in squalid conditions.
'Topeng Monyet looks like it could be quite an old practice that may have been happening for hundreds of years,' says Joan, 'but it is actually quite recent. It seems to have been something that started in its current form in the 1970s, so it is really a new tradition.'
Trained to dance
Joan visited Indonesia to document Topeng Monyet for the local animal charity Jakarta Animal Aid Network (JAAN). While JAAN had succeeded in persuading the government to ban the practice in the capital city of Jakarta the charity was looking to push for a nationwide
'So they started a photographic project in a bid to put some pressure on politicians, as well as to produce educational material,' explains Joan. 'Over a period of about a year and a
Such situations included not only being made to perform out on the streets for
The more time he spent with the trainers themselves, the more he came to understand their plight rather than just that of the macaques.
This led Joan to focus on the monkey rather than the trainer.
'After spending more and more time with the trainers, I was trying to separate the images of these individuals and focus on the activity instead,' says Joan. 'The trainers are very kind but come from poverty, meaning that they see the monkeys as an opportunity to make money.
'The trainers are not bad people - they are desperate people.'
It was during a training session that as the monkey in the featured image, called Timbul, was being taught to stand upright on its back legs while wearing an ungainly clown mask. It then brought its left hand to its face.
'I wasn't expecting the
Helping people to help the monkeys
By talking to the trainers, Joan was better able to understand exactly what was needed to encourage the trainers to stop practicing Topeng Monyet. Simply banning the activity and confiscating the monkeys would not be enough because the trainers would likely continue illegally, making it even harder to regulate.
'It was really important to find an agreement that was good for the monkeys, but also good for the people,' says Joan.
'After talking with JAAN and trying to find the best solution, an agreement with the government was made that the charity will take care of the monkeys after they were confiscated but that in
These opportunities will be jobs in the public service, such as electricians and builders. It is hoped that if the trainers gain another source of income, they will not need to rely on Topeng Monyet in the future.
For the monkeys, it means going to a rehabilitation
This process can take on average eight months - although some can take years - as not only do the monkeys have to be matched correctly in the groups to prevent fighting, but big enough patches of forest need to be found for them to be returned to. With hundreds of monkeys still to be saved, the charity has to increase
While Joan is a little bit reticent about the outcome, as the success of the ban hinges on the government providing the trainers with other opportunities, he is still hopeful.
He will be returning to Indonesia to document the handing over of the monkeys to the charity, and the rehabilitation process that follows.
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