The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is looking into the population boom of an “aggressive” disease-carrying native monkey species in Banton, Romblon, following the reported jump of the ape population in the island municipality.
DENR Assistant Secretary Ricardo Calderon said a team was sent by him to conduct preliminary investigation in the area and verified the report.
“We have already sent a team on the island and we verified the report that there was indeed an increase in the number of monkey population on the island,” Calderon reported.
The Philippines’s long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis philippensis) is a subspecies of the crab-eating macaque. Aside from being a potential carrier of a deadly virus such as Ebola, they are also known to be very aggressive as they tend to be protective of their troop.
Although there are still no recorded, or reported unprovoked attacks on the human population, so far, these monkeys that became highly dependent on food handouts by tourists sometimes go out to raid houses for morsels.
In Romblon, Calderon said, there are reports that they are not only raiding houses but are destroying farms—targeting small banana and cassava farms, including those planted by subsistence farmers.
With the increasing number of monkeys on the island, Calderon said the DENR is now mulling over to start issuing special permits that will allow the capture of these monkey for research and development and purposes.
“Monkeys are usually exported for purpose of scientific research to produce a cure to diseases, or vaccines, because monkeys are closely associated with humans,” he said.
In the Philippines, he said, there are at least seven monkey farms with special permits to breed native species of monkeys.
“These monkey farms suddenly stopped operation because of the reported spread of the Ebola virus disease several years back, but their permits are still active,” he said, adding that he believes that with the increasing demand for a live specimen for the conduct of scientific research, these farms would soon revive their captive breeding program.
The DENR’s Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) allows farming of monkeys, recognizing their important role in scientific research to fight deadly viruses that could cause global pandemic, such as the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19.
These farms are strictly regulated.
“They export the progeny, or the offspring of captive monkeys, to laboratories conducting scientific research in search of vaccines,” Calderon said.
He said that while the DENR-BMB also issues special permits for wild animals as pets, monkeys are discouraged because of the threat of the Ebola virus. Monkeys may be imported and exported under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora or CITES.
A signatory to CITES, the Philippines strictly adhere to its policy to prohibit the export of species on the endangered list. Native monkeys in the Philippines are considered a “least concern species,” which means they do not qualify as threatened, or near threatened.
“So far, there’s one permit application that I came across with for harvesting monkeys,” Calderon said. Before issuing a special permit, the DENR-BMB looks into the conservation status and conduct a background investigation of the applicants, he added.
Usually, these applicants work for monkey farms whose business is to breed monkeys and sell the offspring, usually to foreign buyers, Calderon said.