Today is just another day of your life.
In the middle of the city bustling with honks where it is difficult to avoid being hit by a motorcycle (not if you are a local, though), a few gardens and lakes fulfil our need for green, such as the Ho Hoan Kiem or the large Ho Tay, so does the botanical garden, a 30 minutes walk from the old city centre, which doesn’t have anything else than old trees and a few plants – or so it seems at first!
We have seen these monkeys before, roaming free in the Mekong Delta south of Ho Chi Min city, where some tourists, although they were told to be careful, had their packed lunches stolen by the hungry mob. In Ha Noi, our tiny cousins there are kept in dark, doubled-up cages, where they mirror our own condition by expanding from too much inadequate food, lack of social interactions, and zero exercise – their eyes left devoid of life. Most often sitting down and sedentary, they avoid eye contact and stare into the distance while holding the cage, in a mixture of reminiscence and hope. They are morbidly obese, and lack fur in places where their skin is bright red and sore.
Viet Nam has an incredibly rich biodiversity, mainly thanks to the warm and humid climates, access to mountains, rivers and the ocean. The wildlife includes 11,217 species of animals. Of those, monkeys are the most often seen by the average tourist. All species of primates in Viet Nam are threatened by illegal hunting and habitat destruction and, despite being protected by wildlife protection law, the capture of primates is ongoing. As a result, Viet Nam’s endemic primate species face critical decline as they are hunted mostly for their use in traditional medicine (where only their hands, feet and head are usually taken, the body left to rot) and for the bushmeat trade. They are also subject to poaching for the international pet trade. The uniqueness of many of the Vietnamese species attracts a lot of money and misplaced interests.
The most common monkey species in Viet Nam (and throughout Asia) is the rhesus macaque, which is listed as “Least Concern” in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It is well known for its adaptability to a wide range of habitats: it has the widest geographic range of all non-human primates, ranging from the Himalayan mountains in Pakistan through to the Vietnamese coastline. Yet, as one would expect of any wild animals, captivity is not one of its natural habitats. Usually small (47-53 cm) and lightweight (5.3-7.7 kg), they are easy to capture and manage.
They are known for having highly social lives in large and complex groups of up to 200 individuals. As we have seen them in southern Viet Nam, they are very active and great swimmers and are usually active, loud and mischievous. The cage in Ha Noi is certainly a big change for them.
Viet Nam is well known for its mistreatment of all animals. The WWF reports that nearly 10% of the wildlife in the country is threatened with extinction and Viet Nam has received the “F” grading by World Animal Protection for its poor animal protection laws. Incredible to see such a state of affairs in a country where the government seems to sponsor conservation protection and scientific studies of the ecology: laws which were enacted to set up Xuân Thủy Wetland National Park, four UNESCO Biosphere Reserves, and Hạ Long Bay and Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Parks. The last two are also designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
In 2016, one of many other videos surfaced on Youtube showing the “business as usual” of having monkeys in chains on the streets. A few weeks prior to visiting Ha Noi, we were in Nha Trang, the main tourist destination on Viet Nam’s coast, filled with Russian and Chinese tourists. Here, we saw a baby rhesus monkey kept in chains and wearing a diaper to entertain the street crowds outside of a massage shop. As recently as September 2019, AFP reported on “Monkey Island”, off the country’s coast, where “macaques ride motorbikes, lift weights and shoot basketballs in their own packed circus performance that ends with a monkey in a frilly skirt collecting tips from the audience. Elsewhere on the island, visitors eagerly place bets on a monkey swimming race to close out a morning of animal entertainment.” The few comments on the article show how much progress we still need to make on our own concept of “humanity”.
- Remember that no animals are here for your entertainment. Some can be friends, others can be acquaintances. Would you chain up a friend? As humans, we are the only species (that we know of) that has an understanding of its impact on others. It is our duty to ensure that our impact is positive; when you see a mistreated animal, take action. However small your action, it matters to that animal.
- When you travel, do not sponsor shows with wild animals (monkeys, elephants, big cats, etc.). If you become aware of tourist attractions that offer such activities, report them on big platforms such as www.tripadvisor.com and maps.google.com (where you can review businesses). Spread the word that these spectacles won’t be offered in the future.
- Regardless of their IUCN Red List status, no animal should be mistreated. However, some species are critically endangered, most often due to their use in traditional medicine (think China, mainly). Your best course of action to save them is to pressure your representatives into proposing and enforcing animal protection laws, and international trade laws. Check out the IUCN Red List, find an animal (the more the merrier) that matters to you, then write to your representative at CITES, the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora. Take small actions to make big changes.