Long-Tailed Macaques: A Vulnerable Species
The long-tailed macaque is distributed across Southeast Asia. They live in many different habitats, including beaches, mangroves, deciduous forests, evergreen forests, and savannahs. Many long-tailed macaque communities have unique cultures of distinctive behavior, sometimes including tool use.
People think of long-tailed macaques as an abundant species. However, research and anecdotal evidence suggests that macaque populations may be decreasing. Some recent surveys didn’t find macaques in forests where researchers expected them to live. People tend to estimate how many macaques there are based on how many are found in places humans live, but they tend to have a much lower density in places humans don’t live. Because long-tailed macaques are thought of as common, experts may not put much effort into researching them and conserving their populations. In 2020, the IUCN listed long-tailed macaques as “Vulnerable,” and in 2021, they added three subspecies as “Vulnerable.” Researchers don’t know enough about the other six subspecies to judge their population status.
Long-tailed macaques face the same range of threats that many species face, from habitat loss to hunting. However, they face unique issues because they tend to live near humans. People give long-tailed macaques food, which increases their numbers. Long-tailed macaques fed by humans risk contracting human diseases and being hit by cars. During the COVID-19 lockdowns, many macaques fed by humans went hungry. They may have also caught COVID-19 from humans.
As long-tailed macaques become accustomed to interacting with humans, they may bother or attack humans. Because of this, people tend to classify long-tailed macaques as a “pest species.” Newspaper headlines in Indonesia typically use negative words like “attack” to describe long-tailed macaque behavior. If people think of them as a dangerous pest species, they won’t care about conserving them. When humans complain about long-tailed macaques, governments often cull them. Although researchers don’t fully understand the effects of culling long-tailed macaques, it may reduce their populations, change their group dynamics, reduce their ability to survive, or even eliminate long-tailed macaque cultures.
The legal and illegal trade in primates is a serious threat to all Southeast Asian primate species, and long-tailed macaques are the most heavily traded primate species in Indonesia. People buy them as companion animals or for use in traditional medicine. Long-tailed macaques are also the species most often traded for primate research. From 2008 to 2019, over 450,000 live long-tailed macaques and 700,000 specimens (tissue, blood, hair, body parts) were sold. Over 50,000 long-tailed macaques and specimens were identified as wild-caught, but the number is likely higher. Hunters often catch long-tailed macaques and take them to commercial farms, where the owners claim that the animals are bred in captivity. The COVID-19 pandemic also increased demand for long-tailed macaques, because they are susceptible to the virus and so make good test subjects. Simultaneously, the pandemic decreased resources for enforcement of wild animal trade laws.
People can do a number of things to help long-tailed macaques. Policymakers should know that they are vulnerable and need conservation. As a result, more data on their trade is needed. Researchers should study long-tailed macaques, especially their population sizes and the effect of interacting with humans (for example, whether it impacts their culture and whether diseases are spread cross-species). Researchers should also reduce the number of long-tailed macaques they use in research. When trying to decide whether a species is threatened, experts should consider both protected and non-protected areas, and both human-influenced and non-human-influenced areas. Finally, animal advocates can help change the perception of long-tailed macaques as “pests” in the media, literature, and among the general public.