Spotlight on the Urban Ecology of Long-tailed Macaques

The study of conservation biology, and its oft-times competitor – urbanization, is increasingly relevant to the study of primatology. As a species, long-tailed macaques demonstrate a number of conflicts and potential implications of the urbanization occurring in primate-habitat countries. The long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis) is the third-most common primate in the world with an extensive range across Southeast Asia covering Timor and the Philippines to the Southeast of Bangladesh (Richard, Goldstein, & Dewar, 1989). Although they are common relative to other primate species and listed as least concern by the IUCN, scientists recognize that their range and population status is declining due to habitat loss and degradation and exportation for the biomedical industry (Eudey, 2008). Whole groups are cultivated in Cambodia for trapping and sale for pharmaceutical testing based on demand from China and the United States while other anthropogenic factors, such as shipbuilding and shrimp farming negatively impact populations in Bangladesh (Eudey, 2008). They have also been introduced to areas outside their native range, including to the island of Mauritius and to China for use in medicine and consumption (Eudey, 2008; Richard, Goldstein, & Dewar, 1989).

Macaque (Photo: Kristin Abt)
Macaque (Photo: Kristin Abt)

While macaques are able to utilize a variety of human habitats, Malaivijitnond and Hamada (2008) suggest that anthropogenic land-use change has forced these animals to coexist in human-dominated landscapes. Long-tailed macaques are naturally found in low elevation habitats, including, seashores, swamp and mangrove forests, and river banks (Eudey, 2008). Studies have found, however, that long-tailed macaques prefer secondary, disturbed forests to the primary forests that most other primate species prefer (Richard, Goldstein, & Dewar, 1989). Macaques are commonly seen and encouraged in monkey parks, temples, monasteries, city and forest parks, and restaurants, often with individuals released as pets incorporated into the urban troops (Malaivijitnond & Hamada, 2008). This study based in Thailand found that groups averaged two-hundred monkeys per location with five locations containing upwards of one thousand individuals in a single group, including numerous subspecies and hybridized animals. These groups are locally overcrowded, which exacerbates human-wildlife conflict, especially in dry seasons and limited food supply (Malaivijitnond & Hamada, 2008). An extreme example of such conflict possible in an urban environment occurred in Malaysia where a suspected long-tailed macaque approached a house, potentially attracted by the female pet monkey, and grabbed a baby that it later dropped to the ground when it became alarmed. The child did not survive the incident and the monkey was found and shot (“Monkey snatches,” 2010).

Aggressive encounters with macaques are common in urban areas and some countries hire guards in public places to chase the animals away (Richard, Goldstein, & Dewar, 1989). Unintentionally, humans contribute to the problem by leaving garbage for them to raid (Eudey, 2008). In many cases, humans actively promote their presence for spiritual and entertainment purposes by provisioning food for the macaques, including banana, papaya, watermelon, mango, rambutan, pineapple, and coconut (Malaivijitnond & Hamada, 2008). These authors noted that local villagers in Thailand will hold “feeding parties” for the macaques and stop their cars to allow troops to cross roads, yet need to protect their buildings and houses with metal and protective guarding from the damage caused by macaques. There is also the potential for zoonotic disease transmission, including the potentially fatal herpes B simplex virus, from macaques to people. Long-tailed macaques will also commonly raid human crops, including rubber fruits, rice shoots, corn, and beans, causing some to label them as pest or “weed” species (Richard, Goldstein, & Dewar, 1989). The monkeys have been seen raiding palm oil plantations in Borneo, as well (personal observation).

Long-tailed macaques exist in the absence of humans on forest edges with suitable access to fruits and crustaceans; however, the urban environment facilitates their feeding and reproduction potential by increasing group sizes and decreasing their need to forage and seek wild habitat. Humans both promote macaque populations through provisioning and protection in some habitats and hinder through habitat fragmentation, exportation for research, human consumption, and the pet-trade.


Eudey, A. A. (2008). “The crab-eating macaque (Macaca fascicularis): Widespread and rapidly declining.” Primate Conservation, 23, 129-132.

Malaivijitnond, S., & Hamada, Y. (2008). Current situation and status of long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis) in ThailandThe Natural History Journal of Chulalongkorn University, 8(2), 185-204.

Monkey snatches, kills baby in Malaysia.” October 7, 2010. My Fox DC. Retrieved from

Richard, A. F., Goldstein, S. J., & Dewar, R. E. (1989). “Weed macaques: The evolutionary implications of macaque feeding ecology.” International Journal of Primatology, 10(6), 569-594.

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