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Monkey mayhem at temple

A pariah macaque sits in a tree yesterday at Wat Phnom pagoda in downtown Phnom Penh.

A group of macaque monkeys living around Wat Phnom has become increasingly violent towards tourists, prompting officials from the Phnom Tamao Zoo and the Forestry Administration to begin relocating and testing them on Friday.

Nhek Rattanak Pich, director of the Phnom Tamao Zoo, said yesterday 20 monkeys had been tranquillised and captured at the Phnom Penh temple so far.

Eleven of them had been sent to an animal shelter in Kandal province’s Kien Svay district for blood tests.

The remaining nine were being held at the Forestry Administration until they could be transferred to the zoo.

“Those monkeys need to be tested for diseases first. Visitors fed them food that can contain any number of diseases,” Nak Rattanak Pich said, adding that officials needed to make sure the animals were healthy before they could be put in a habitat with other monkeys.

Men Phymean, director of the Wildlife Protection Office at the Ministry of Agriculture’s Forestry Administration, said yesterday he had been informed that the monkeys had become more aggressive towards visitors.

Officials plan for more monkeys from the 50-strong population to be moved in the next two months.

Toek Buntav, a 19-year-old security guard at Wat Phnom, said yesterday he had seen the temple monkeys grabbing food and possessions from tourists.

“It is very hard to get the property back from the monkeys because they jump very quickly from one high tree to another, then destroy the property,” he said, adding that the monkeys were quite clever and could even open cans of juice to drink.

“Maybe they are hungry because the state does not feed them. They only get food from visitors.”

Toek Buntav also said the mischievous macaques had torn out the wiring of street lamps around Wat Phnom, as well as breaking into people’s houses to steal food and destroy property.

Although admitting that some of the monkeys scared off visitors, he pleaded with authorities to “please take away only the big, mean monkeys and keep the small ones at Wat Phnom”.

“Visitors like monkeys. If there are no monkeys here, what is there for visitors to see?” he said.      

Some local workers, however, bear the signs of monkey attacks.

Keo Pesith, a valet for tourists at Wat Phnom, yesterday revealed a scar on his right foot where a monkey had bitten him last year. “I just played with him, and he got angry and bit me,” he said, adding that he had also seen the macaques attack children.

Sen Son, the owner of  Phnom Penh’s famous elephant Sambo, who resides at Wat Phnom, said yesterday the monkeys were causing damage to statues and the roof of the temple on top of Wat Phnom.

“We have to preserve the ancient [temple] and take the monkeys to Phnom Tamao Zoo because if anyone wants to see them, they can go there,” he said, adding that foreigners did not blame the monkeys for damage caused because “the monkeys know nothing; they are animals, not humans”.

A staff member at the Vanny Group, a self-described “monkey feeding farm” in Kandal province’s Kien Svay district where 11 of the monkeys are being held, said yesterday she did not know whether they had already been tested for diseases.

Chheng Kim Sun, director of the Forestry Administration, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Nick Marx, wildlife rescue director at the NGO Wildlife Alliance, said that although the group was not involved in the rescue, it would work closely with Phnom Tamao Zoo in the future.



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