Thailand officials to cage urban macaques to ‘solve’ decade-old human-monkey conflict in Lopburi

Thai wildlife officials laid out a plan on Wednesday to bring peace to a central Thai city after at least a decade of human-monkey conflict.

The macaques that roam Lopburi are a symbol of local culture, and a major tourist draw. But after years of dangerous encounters with residents and visitors and several failed attempts to bring peace with population controls, local people and businesses have had enough.

The monkeys frequently try to snatch food from humans, sometimes resulting in tussles that can leave people with scratches and other injuries.

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But outrage grew in March when a woman dislocated her knee after a monkey pulled her off her feet in an effort to grab food, and another man was knocked off a motorcycle by a hungry monkey.

Authorities hope to round up some 2,500 urban monkeys and place them in massive enclosures, said Athapol Charoenshunsa, the director general of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation. They’ll work with wildlife experts to find a way for a limited number of monkeys to stay at liberty in the city, he added.

“I don’t want humans to have to hurt monkeys, and I don’t want monkeys to have to hurt humans,” he told reporters during a news conference in Bangkok.

Monkeys eat fruit during a festival in Lopburi province, Thailand. Wildlife officials laid out a plan to bring peace after at least a decade of human-monkey conflict. Photo: AP

An official monkey catching campaign was launched, prioritising more aggressive alpha males. It has caught 37 monkeys so far, most of whom have been placed under the care of wildlife authorities in the neighbouring province of Saraburi, while others were sent to the Lopburi zoo.

Officials said they plan to capture the rest of the monkeys once the enclosures are complete, especially those in the residential areas. Separate cages will be prepared for different troops of monkeys to prevent them from fighting.

Athapol said he expects the first phase of the operation to start within weeks, and believes the huge cages will be able to contain thousands of them and “will solve the problem very quickly.”

Prang Sam Yot is known locally as the “monkey temple” due to the crab-eat macaques that inhabit it. Photo: Thomas Bird

The monkeys are a symbol of the province, about 140 kilometres (90 miles) north of Bangkok, where the ancient Three Pagodas temple celebrates an annual “Monkey Buffet” festival, and they’re commonly seen throughout the city.

Macaques are classified as a protected species under Thailand’s wildlife conservation law.

Athapol said people shouldn’t see monkeys as villains, saying that the authorities might have not been efficient enough in their work to control the simian population, leading to clashes between the animals and human residents.

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People also need to adapt to the city’s monkeys, said Phadej Laithong, director of the Wildlife Conservation Office, explaining that a lack of natural food sources prompts the animals to find food wherever they can, including from humans.

Previous control measure have fallen short. From 2014-2023, the wildlife authorities neutered about 2,600 Lopburi monkeys.

Athapol said they are also working in other areas of Thailand that are facing problems with monkeys, such as Prajuab Kiri Khan and Phetchaburi. He said 52 of the country’s 77 provinces report frequent problems from monkeys.

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