Monkey minds: what we can learn from primate personality


We’re not that different from you. Christopher Drake/FlickrCC BY-NC

Every human is different. Some are outgoing, while others are reserved and shy. Some are focused and diligent, while others are haphazard and unfussed. Some people are curious, others avoid novelty and enjoy their rut.

This is reflected in our personality, which is typically measured across five factors, known as the “Big Five”. These are:

  • Openness – intellectual curiosity and preference for novelty
  • Conscientiousness – the degree of organisation and self-discipline
  • Extraversion – sociability, emotional expression and tendency to seek others’ company
  • Agreeableness – degree of trust or suspicious of others and tendencies towards helpfulness and altruism, and
  • Neuroticism – emotional stability or volatility.

But did you know that our primate cousins – other apes (chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans, gorillas and gibbons) and monkeys – also exhibit a similar personality profile? Some are bold, others shy. Some are friendly, other aggressive. Some are curious, while others are conservative.

But they also differ from us in some interesting ways. And it’s in teasing out these differences that we can learn a surprising amount about the way they live, and how they have evolved.

Social influence

Comparative psychologists have long adapted personality tests to measure the personality of other species, including petsbig cats, and our “hairy” primate relatives.

Since nonhuman animals cannot fill out a questionnaire, a human who knows them well – perhaps a caregiver, zookeeper, owner, researcher or park ranger – rates their personality for them.

Chimpanzees, it turns out, are remarkably similar to us in their personality make-up. They have been found to have the same five personality factors that we have. However, they also have a sixth Dominance factor. This includes features such as: independent, confident, fearless, intelligent, bullying and persistent.

Why do chimps have a Dominance factor and we don’t? It appears to be due to the kind of society that chimps live in. Understanding the dominance hierarchy of male chimpanzees – who is powerful and who is not – is a matter of survival and well-being for every chimpanzee in a community.

Other primates also show interesting variations in personality that correspond to their social dynamics.

Do I look conscientious or neurotic? Rod Waddington/Flickr, CC BY-SAMacaque machinations

The 22 species of macaque monkeys are the only primates that are as widespread in their distribution as we are. Along with their disparate habitats, they also have a wide variation in the structure of the societies, which appears to have influenced the evolution of their personalities.

A team of researchers, led by Mark Adams and Alexander Weiss of Edinburgh University, investigated personality and social structure in six species of macaque and found some interesting variation.

There are four main categories of social style, ranging from Grade 1 “despotic” to Grade 4 “tolerant”, depending on how strict or relaxed their female dominance hierarchies are.

Grade 1 species showed strong nepotism or favouritism towards kin and high ranking monkeys. These species include rhesus macaques, a species commonly used in laboratories and sent into space before humans, and Japanese macaques, which include the famous snow monkeys who soak in hot springs.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Grade 4 species showed more tolerance in social interactions between unrelated females. This includes Tonkean macaques, which are found in Sulawesi and the nearby Togian Islands in Indonesia, and Crested macaques, which are critically endangered.

(A wild crested macaque received international attention when he stole a wildlife photographer’s camera and then photographed himself. This could be an example of a “bold” and “curious” personality.)

In the middle of the social tolerance scale are the Grade 2 and 3 species. This includes Assamese macaques, which are sometimes found at high altitudes in Nepal and Tibet, and Barbary macaques, which include the infamous “apes” of Gibraltar (actually monkeys, not apes), who are often overweight and aggressive because tourists overfeed them.

Do I look aggressive to you? Michelle Bender/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND
Click to enlarge

Personality differences between macaque species

Interestingly, the individual species of macaques didn’t all have the same personality factors. The Japanese, Barbary, crested and Tonkean macaques had only four, while the Assamese had five, and rhesus monkeys had six factors.

All of the species exhibited the dimension of Friendliness. This seems to be a personality factor unique to macaques, and is a blend of chimpanzee Agreeableness and human Altruism.

Tonkean macaques also had a Sociability personality factor. Just like chimpanzees and humans, this species of macaque uses affiliative contacts (i.e. friendship) to reinforce bonds. Only crested macaques did not show the personality factor of Openness (i.e. curiosity), usually found in humans and other primates. The factors Dominance and Anxiety were found for rhesus and Japanese macaques.

The old and the new

The study also showed the fascinating connections between personality and social style. Grade 1 despotic species – Japanese and rhesus macaques – were rather similar, and so were Grades 2, 3 and 4, including the more tolerant species such as Assamese, Tonkean and crested macaques.

On the evolutionary scale, African primates, such as the African Barbary macaque, are “older”. Therefore, they represented the “ancestral” social behaviours for macaques.

Barbary macaque personality has a Dominance/Confidence factor, which is related to social assertiveness, an Opportunism factor, which relates to aggression and impulsivity, a Friendliness factor, relating to social affiliation, and an Openness factor, relating to curiosity and exploratory behaviour.

Rhesus and Japanese macaques, on the other hand, are “younger” on the evolutionary scale. Therefore, the Dominance and Anxiety factors seen in these species must have evolved later.

Psst. You’re disagreeable. jinterwas/Flickr, CC BY

Understanding the personality of an individual animal or species can help in animal management and welfare. Rhesus macaques, for example, display an Anxiety personality factor. These monkeys are also most commonly used in bio-medical laboratory research. Knowing that some individuals may be prone to anxiety means that researchers must make extra efforts to alleviate any potential distress.

The findings that some Barbary macaques may be especially socially assertive, aggressive, impulsive, curious and exploratory may also help us convince tourists to keep their distance from these monkeys in Gibraltar to avoid conflicts!

Such studies of animal personality also shed light on our own personality dimensions. Our lack of a Dominance factor suggests that our ancestral environment was perhaps more egalitarian and less characterised by high social stratification, which is also borne out by anthropological and palaeontological studies.

Ultimately, we can learn a lot from our primate cousins, not only about their personalities, but about personality itself – not to mention learning a thing or two about ourselves and the social environment in which we evolved.


Written by Carla Litchfield

Doll Face Dancing Monkeys Of Indonesia

1150x647Doll Face Dancing Monkeys Of Indonesia

Special Report: dressed in grotesque costumes, plastic masks and acrylic wigs, the exhausted and severely malnourished dancing monkeys spend every day in the hot sun as they dance on command on the edge of busy roads, choking on putrid traffic fumes.

Monkey handlers usually lay in the shade a few meters away and constantly wrench on the heavy chain around their monkey’s neck, demanding non-stop performances. Forty percent of monkeys die during training alone.

Known as topeng monyet, a five year battle took place to have performing monkeys banned in Jakarta and that same battle now exists for other locations across Indonesia.

The illegal animal ­trade is a multi-million-dollar business and every year over 3,000 Macaque monkeys are estimated to be poached from the Sumatran forest, tortured and condemned to a life of painful misery. The monkeys are poached after the mother is wounded and the baby is prised off the dying mother’s body. Most macaque babies are used for research for international pharmaceutical groups or universities and the others are sold to become topeng monyets, performing monkeys.

Poachers are paid $2 for each monkey by dealers, who sell them on to street buskers in Jakarta for $5 each. A fully trained macaque can be sold for up to $135.

Listed as near-threatened, the highly social and intelligent macaque monkeys are forced to live in isolation in tiny dark wooden crates which quickly leads to serious emotional problems for each of the monkeys. In 2013 at least 150 macaques were kept in this manner in the East Jakarta slum area of South Cipinang Besar, famously known as Kampung Monyet, or Monkey Village where a majority of the residents call themselves ‘monkey masters.’

A young baby is forced to start training way before it's body can handle such physical or mental stresses.

A young baby is forced to start training way before it’s body can handle such physical or mental stresses.

Monkey dancing only took off during the 1980s, to entertain poor children in villages [kampungs.] In recent years dancing monkeys began performing in city areas which quickly escalated to an industry throughout many regions in Indonesia.

Macaque training takes around four to six months, comprising of six or seven hours torture every day for the monkey to learn to walk upright and do simple tricks. Macaques who survive the training process will be forced to perform every day for between five to 10 years , depending on how soon they lose their mind and become aggressive and uncontrollable. At that point they will be sold to specialized restaurants of exotic cuisine, where they will be served as a live monkey-brains meal.

Training To Death

The following is from an undercover interview with an Associated Press journalist and a monkey handler known as Cecep, a resident of Monkey Village.

Cecep puts a metal ring around the neck of Toal, a male macaque with a broken arm from a previous training incident. Two ropes tether the ring to poles erected on either side of the monkey as Cecep also ties Toal’s arms behind his back while the monkey screeches in pain as his broken arm is twisted and tightly tied.

This “hanging the monkey” method forces the monkey to rely only on its feet to get better footing on the ground,  giving it an erect, human posture, says Cecep.
“We usually hang the monkeys for half a day before we release them for a few hours to feed.After that, we hang them again for a few hours until the day’s training is over and we put them back in their cages. But we have to hit them too,”says Nanang, another handler.

A terrified Macaque monkey screams in terror as it is slapped across the face,

A terrified Macaque monkey screams in terror as it is slapped across the face,

“Some handlers let their monkeys hang all day without feeding them or giving them breaks,”says Cecep.
The hanging training begins as soon as a monkey stops nursing, or when it is at least a year old and it takes a week to a month for a monkey to get through this basic training. “Sometimes they don’t make it and they die,” says Cecep.

Once the monkeys have passed the hanging training and can walk upright, the handlers train them to use various toys and props, such as a toy motorcycle, for their performance. “We also train them to lift toy weights to check if they can really stand erect, if they can’t, the toy training period takes longer,” Cecep says.

“The monkeys are starved and only fed when they obey to make sure they learn quickly. If they’re not physically strong enough, they die during the basic training, though some die later in the toy training phase.
Many just toss the monkey’s body into the river or a garbage dump.”

Having it's arms tied behind it's back, this young monkey is tortured for several hours a day, everyday for around six months.

Having it’s arms tied behind it’s back, this young monkey is tortured for several hours a day, everyday for around six months.

 Then there are the non-lethal training accidents, like the broken arm Cecep gave Toal.
Cecep demonstrates how he has trained another of his monkeys, Odon, to ride a small wooden motorcycle and salute a flag. As Odon walks back and forth with the toy motorcycle, Cecep gives the command for it to perform by yanking on the chain attached to a collar around the monkey’s neck.
It’s “normal” to pull hard, he says, and there’s a certain way to do it without breaking the animal’s neck.
 Monkey bosses rent out the primates to handlers for Rp 15,000 ($1.70) per monkey per day, with the basic props of a mask and a costume. The monkey owners charge an additional Rp 20,000 to rent out extra props such as a toy bicycle or musical instrument. Monkey bosses own bigger cages can have up to 15 monkeys crammed into them.


Darting in and out of heavy traffic, a skinny little monkey attached to heavy chain and wearing grotesque costume, mask and wig is forced to dive between cars and pick up coins tossed out of car windows by drivers passing by. Standing upright on his/her back legs all day, overheated in the full sun while dressed in heavy clothes, the dancing monkeys is constantly having it’s neck chain wrenched by it’s handlers as he lays in the shade some meters away, out of the heat of the sun. The never ending assortment of malnourished little monkeys are worked to exhaustion on a daily basis, till death.

Exhausted and skinny  Macaque mother with a suckling baby, still has to work all day every day, in the hot sun.

Exhausted and skinny Macaque mother with a suckling baby, still has to work all day every day, in the hot sun.

If the monkey does not immediately answer the sudden yank of the chain around it’s neck, it will be severely punished, resulting in greater pain. Even female monkeys with suckling young are still expected to “work” in a disgusting exploitation to get more money if people see the baby suckling on the utterly exhausted mother.
Standing on the edge of traffic all day the monkeys are forced to swallow car and truck fumes all day long, which are particularly potent due to the height of the monkeys and the height of car exhaust pipes.

Forced to do stupid tricks which require  energy and stamina, when the money is starving and exhausted.

Forced to do stupid tricks which require energy and stamina, when the money is starving and exhausted.

 After transportation and monkey rental, handlers like Cecep and Nanang can expect to take home up to Rp 70,000 (US$5.00), after several hours of daytime performance on the sides of some of Jakarta’s busiest roads. Cecep adds that he can make a little more during weekends.

As hard as the monkeys are forced to work for several hours every day, their pitiful diet consists solely of plain white rice. During performances sometimes their handlers give them pieces of fruit or snacks that passers by hand out

Each time a tourist stops to look, the monkey is ordered by its owner to walk on his hands, sit on a toy rocking horses or ride bicycles in the hope the tourist will hand over some loose change. It is important that people stop giving money to the monkeys or their handlers because doing so only encourages the practice. 

Jakarta Bans Dancing Monkeys, Why Not Everywhere?

After a five year battle to shut down Jakarta’s dancing monkeys, the ban came into effect in late 2013 – but only for Jakarta! As soon as the first 11 monkeys out of 350 were confiscated from handlers in Jakarta, other handlers went into hiding or relocated to areas such as West Java where they are still operating today.

The Jakarta Animal Aid Network has been campaigning since 2009 to end the dancing monkey trade because of its ongoing cruelty. A Spokeswoman for JAAN, Femke Den Haas says the monkeys have their teeth cut out, are starved and are forced to hang upside down for hours in order for the monkey to become submissive.

the despair of a chained Macaque monkey.

the despair of a chained Macaque monkey.

According to BBC, Governor Joko Widodo made the decision to end the street performances because he wanted to save the monkeys, as well as protect humans from the diseases they may carry. Such diseases have included rabies, tuberculosis, hepatitis and the bacterial disease leptospirosis.

The original plan in 2011 was for the city government to buy back all monkeys used as street buskers for about $90 and shelter them at a one-hectare preserve at Jakarta’s Ragunan Zoo, and the handlers and caretakers would be provided vocational training to help find new jobs.

A total of 81 dancing monkeys were seized in 2011 with the thought they could be either placed into the Ragunan Zoo or simply released back into the wild. However, after suffering years of mental and physical abuse, the zoo refused all the monkeys, arguing that the dancing monkeys suffered from diseases and posed a threat to the facility’s current animal population. Yet the monkeys were not able to fend for themselves in the wild.

Their front legs are wrenched behind their back and their wrists tightly bound together.

Their front legs are wrenched behind their back and their wrists tightly bound together.

JAAN stepped in and offered to rehabilitate them. Fourteen macaques were put down after testing positive for tuberculosis and the remaining 67 were nursed back to health and slowly learned to socialize with other macaques; a significant step after spending much of their lives living alongside humans.

In 2012  a group of 40 dancing monkeys were confiscated by the authorities and were found to be carrying various diseases including tuberculosis, hepatitis and the bacterial disease, leptospirosis.

In 2013 an estimated 350 dancing monkeys were being forced to work as street performers in Jakarta. These heavily traumatized monkeys were no longer able to live with other primates in zoos and had no way to defend themselves in the wild.

Jakarta authorities initially intended that the monkey confiscations would begin in 2014 but were forced to act earlier because of the appalling conditions in which the monkeys are made to live.

Cruelly hung by the neck with their front legs tied behind their backs, the young Macaques are forced to stay like this for up to weeks. 40% die during the training phase.

Cruelly hung by the neck with their front legs tied behind their backs, the young Macaques are forced to stay like this for up to weeks. 40% die during the training phase.

“That is related to order on the streets as well as rabies and other sorts of diseases, that is why we want to be free of performing monkeys and why we have started this week. Most of the owners are not residents of Jakarta,” said Mr Widodo.

Haas said “All the confiscated monkeys are traumatized and require at least three months in quarantine before we can even contemplate re-releasing them into the wild and even then, it has to be in an area where there no other wild monkeys.”

“We believe the monkeys are best off on an isolated island such as the uninhabited island in Pulau Seribu, the capital’s Thousand Islands district, where the idea of a topeng monyet sanctuary could be set up,” said Hass.

Topeng monyets are still performing in the West Java cities of Bandung and Bekasi, however the local government in Bandung is  preparing to also ban monkey shows.


The ex dancing monkeys in the care of JAAN are all long tailed macaques which were rescued after Governor Jokowi banned the dancing monkeys on Jakarta streets end 2013 and are cared for in the government quarantine building in South Jakarta where a full time team is on site, including one veterinarian who is standby 24 hours a day, every single day.

The monkeys were cared for in the quarantine for three months during which ’emergency care’ was provided as they all suffered badly not only from stress and trauma, but also malnourishment and various diseases, including parasite infestation. They were skinny and scared, seeking comfort with each other.
After three months quarantine, the monkeys were moved to the land behind the quarantine building where JAAN built enclosures for them. One group at the time was formed, with the last group successfully being introduced in July 2014, totaling four successful groups.


Macaque monkeys have suffered enough. Ripped from their wounded mother at a tender age, then chained and tortured and made to perform idiotic tricks on command for several hours every day before being shoved back into a small dark cage. Just because the monkey is dressed into a grotesque outfit and mask designed to make it appear as an object does not remove the truth that behind every topeng monyet mask is an injured and severely abused animal who needs urgent help.

It is truly disgusting that after years of forced service the Macaque monkey ends up in the center of a dining table for people to eat his brain while he is still alive! The final betrayal by humans toward this precious breed of monkey.

Jakarta has banned topeng monyet dancing monkeys but we cannot become complacent and presume Indonesia will automatically ban it elsewhere. As we source current petitions for Indonesia’s remaining dancing monkeys we will add them to this article.

The following is a selection of professional photographs which were taken of Jakarta’s doll face dancing monkeys:








Perttu-Saksa_web1Jakarta has banned topeng monyet dancing monkeys but we cannot become complacent and presume Indonesia will automatically ban it elsewhere. As we source current petitions for Indonesia’s remaining dancing monkeys we will add them to this article. 

written by Michele Brown

Say no to wildlife interaction

South Africa is becoming more and more popular as a tourist destination and one of the most popular reasons for visiting is the spectacular wildlife. Along with the ‘Big Five’, South Africa is also home to an abundance of mammals, spectacular birdlife and our coasts are visited by dolphins, seals and migrating whales.

However, despite all this wildlife living free in our forests, plains, mountains and coasts there is a disturbing number of facilities offering tourists the opportunity to get ‘hands on’ with wild animals. One can pet lion, tiger and serval cubs, and walk with adult lions and cheetahs. Take a ride on the back of an elephant or even an ostrich, feed monkeys and lemurs or drape a large and dangerous snake around your neck. The list appears to get longer each year with more wild animals being added to the list of those you can ‘cuddle’.

Lets put an end to this unethical practice!

There is ZERO conservation value in the pet-play-pay industry. The only reason it is offered abundantly is because it rolls in the money. By offering wildlife interaction you can get rich really quickly.

One cannot deny that any interaction with an animal, especially a wild one is an exhilarating experience leaving us feeling quite…special. But is it really ‘special’?

Encountering a wild elephant voluntarily bending on its knees to allow a human to ride on its back, that would be special. A wild lioness sauntering up to a human and presenting her new born cubs to be petted and played with, that would be special. A wild cheetah leash in mouth, begging to be taken on a walk, that would be special. In fact any hands-on encounter with a wild animal actually in the wild would be very special indeed.

Wild animals are not puppets for pleasure. Forcing animals to preform causes harm. It is an unethical practice and should not be supported.

So why is it that wild animals in captivity are so amenable to poking, petting, camera snapping, noisy tourists? The fundamental word here is captive. The harsh reality behind all of these encounters is that the animals have been raised and conditioned in captivity, and generally from a very early age.

Whether captive bred or stolen from the wild (yes stolen, the rest of the family members would be murdered in order to access the young) their natural instincts remain. Wild animals are naturally fearful of humans, this fear can lead to aggression if we venture too close and if you come between a mother and her young you will be certain to feel the full extent of their wrath.

Conditioning can take on many forms and generally will involve an element of physiological and psychological cruelty:

Elephants have their spirits literally beaten out of them until they become totally submissive to their trainer(s). Their limbs are tied with ropes and pulled into unnatural positions, bullhooks and cattle prods are used on the most sensitive areas of their bodies to force them to do ‘tricks’. Often they are starved and will only be fed if they perform, this comes under the guise of ‘positive reinforcement’. At any elephant encounter you can be sure that the keeper will have with him a bullhook or other such implement to coerce the elephant to do as he/she wishes. Despite the thickness of an elephants hide, it is also extremely sensitive to pain.

Training equipment – or should we rather say implements of torture

Lions and tigers are kept as breeding machines, their cubs removed at birth to be hand raised by volunteers paying vast amounts of money for the privilege. These cubs are then subjected to hours of manhandling by the paying public on a daily basis. When lion cubs grow too large and boisterous to be petted by children they are used for ‘lion walks’. Again, they are beaten in order to become submissive to their human ‘owners’.

Cub petting facilities – the epitome of greed

Walks with apex cats are popular and a huge money making tourist attraction, this is however unethical - there is zero conservation value and these cats are subjected to a unnatural life of being forced to walk and interact with paying patrons.

A sharp rap across their sensitive noses with a stick inflicts sufficient pain to keep them in check. Those that do not bow to their masters have a far worse destiny. Some are drugged to keep them docile so that tourists can ride on their backs and pose for photographs. The rest are kept in small enclosures to await their certain death. Trophy hunters pay big money to bag a lion and one which has been conditioned to accept humans and has no place to run makes a nice easy target. Virtually every facility that offers lion cub petting will be hiding the more sinister business of ‘canned hunting’.

Ostrich racing is also a cruel form of entertainment. No animal was naturally designed to carry a human on its back and this is especially true of birds and yet they are forced to carry up to half their 150kg weight on their backs. Herded into a pen with a bag thrown over their heads the rider then jumps on and grabs hold of the wingpits. Released, the birds then run in a frenzy with the rider clinging on to their sensitive wings. Not only is the practice cruel for the ostrich it is also incredibly dangerous for the rider. Ostriches can be unpredictable and are capable of delivering a hefty kick or nasty bite if they feel threatened. There is also the danger of falling off a bird running at 40km/h and no one is going to offer you a helmet.

Primates, the most intelligent mammals on earth are possibly the most exploited. Bred and traded as pets, trained to act in movies, forced to perform tricks for the public, experimented upon and in some countries (including South Africa), eaten.

Primates are communal animals with complex social structures. Removed from their family groups they suffer severe psychological stress. Asia in particular has an appalling track record of using primates as photo props and much worse. Dressed as dolls they are forced to ride bicycles, walk on stilts and perform other tricks whilst begging for money. Their training involves fear, restraint and beatings.

In South Africa the primate of choice for entertainment is generally the lemur. With their big eyes and soft fur they are undeniably cute. However, lemurs too are social creatures that mostly live in large family groups, they also have an inherent fear of humans. There is only one reason a lemur would want to curl itself around your neck or sit on your lap, it wants food. So one would question, is the lemur ever given the opportunity to feed as it does in the wild, or does it have to resort to begging from tourists?

Bird parks are also a big attraction, South Africa is home to a vast array of big and colourful birds; flamingos, cranes, storks to name but a few. However to keep them enclosed is an expensive business, far cheaper to cut a wing off to prevent their escape. ‘Pinioning’ is a procedure practiced worldwide as a way of keeping these larger birds and water birds in particular, in open enclosures. As they are not so easy to catch, the trimming of feathers on a regular basis to prevent flight is not an easy option. Therefore part of one wing is amputated, cut off at the elbow. This renders the bird permanently unable to fly. It is done with a pair of scissors and normally without pain relief.

All birds with wings were meant to fly, however it is common practice to deny them this freedom so that humans can keep them where they want, their beauty to be viewed at leisure. Most birds are kept in cages, many far too small for the bird’s needs. Those on public display may be allowed out to sit on perches to allow photo opportunities. All of these birds will have had their wings clipped, a process of cutting the flight feathers to prevent the bird flying away. Flight depravation denies a bird to carry out its normal behaviour and is in effect the same as keeping a human in shackles.

There is a seemingly endless list of the types of animals currently used for human entertainment and together with welfare issues there is also a great danger to the public and indeed, their keepers. No matter how well a wild animal is conditioned or trained, they will always retain an element of their former selves which can manifest itself at any time with dire consequences. There are many, many reported incidents where people have been crushed by elephants, mauled or even killed by lions and tigers, and the seemingly tame cheetah is also capable of inflicting serious injuries. Monkeys too are unpredictable and it is known for lifelong pets to suddenly turn on their ‘owners’ inflicting horrendous injuries. Birds have remarkably strong beaks and parrots in particular can deliver a vicious bite. Whatever the animal, there is always a risk, that cute lemur…check out its teeth!

Many of the establishments offering animal encounters will often do so under the guise of conservation. It is extraordinarily difficult to release any animal or bird back into the wild and once they have been imprinted by humans it is virtually impossible. White lions and tigers are not ‘endangered’, they carry a defective gene and would never survive in the wild, they were never meant to. There can only be one reason to offer these attractions and quite simply it is to make money. The industry is controlled by greed and greed is acting like a disease which threatens to become an epidemic and the threat to our wildlife is becoming irreversible.

We are failing our wildlife on a catastrophic scale and already the world has lost 52% of its wildlife over the last 40 years.

Here are some other pretty scary statistics:

1600 Elephants are currently kept captive throughout the world. That is one quarter of the total elephant population. 124 elephants are currently used in South Africa for entertainment.

100,000 elephants have been poached in the last three years. More elephants are being poached than there are natural births. If this rate continues, elephants could become extinct within the next 20 years.

In 1980, more than 75,000 lions roamed the Africa continent. Today, less than 25,000 wild lions occupy 23% of the territory that they once inhabited.

There are currently about 2800 lions living wild in South Africa, however 5000 lions are bred every year to satisfy the cub petting and hunting industries.

There are around 5000 lions held captive in the USA alone, but there are only 3200 wild tigers in Asia.

Almost one third of the world’s parrot species are close to extinction due to habitat loss and illegal trapping.

It is estimated that the amount of birds taken illegally from the wild for the pet trade runs into millions. 60% of these birds die before reaching their destinations.

The illegal trade in CITES listed birds is worth an estimated $5-8 billion a year, this is on par with the illegal arms and drugs trade.

The trade in wildlife is big business, generating billions of dollars annually but only a fraction of that money finds its way into conservation projects, with the rest ending up in the pockets of unscrupulous business people, corrupt officials and illegal traders.

What is even more horrifying is the fact that we are fast approaching a time when the only place to see wildlife will be in captivity.

Thankfully, responsible tourism can make a vast difference. By shifting the focus away from establishments that exploit our wildlife and concentrating on those that actually do play a part in conservation. A close encounter with a wild animal at a petting zoo may be a thrilling experience but it pales into insignificance against the adrenalin pumping experience of spotting a rare animal in the wild or watching the antics of animals behaving naturally.

Tour companies are already taking note and listening to animal welfare groups, already 30 international tour operators have removed elephant trekking from their list of available activities. We need to expand on that and refuse to support establishments that exploit animals for their own monetary gain. It is our duty to educate and guide our visitors. South Africa welcomed over 9 million international visitors last year, if each of those people were educated into the ugly truth behind the petting industry, the word would spread. If more money was channelled into true sanctuaries, conservation projects and genuine breeding programs there just maybe a chance that we can play a positive part in increasing wildlife populations.

Wildlife, it belongs in the wild….lets help keep it there.

written Claire Hamilton, from SAASA

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Think twice about wild animal tourism, visitors told

A leading animal charity is urging tourists to think more carefully about the impact their adventures are having on animals


Footage of the hidden suffering behind animal tourism is released as part of a new campaign to curb abuse. 

A leading animal charity is calling on tourists to think twice before they take part in wild animal experiences, as part of a campaign to expose the hidden suffering behind many attractions.

The campaign by World Animal Protection, which launches today in conjunction with World Animal Day, draws on research that found almost half of people pay for a wild animal experience because they love animals, but they remain unaware of the abuse that goes on behind the scenes.

Mike Baker, chief executive of World Animal Protection said: “What we need to do is alert people to the wildlife suffering in this industry. We don’t want that once in a lifetime experience to be a lifetime of misery for the animal.”

Targeting tourists before they book, the campaign focuses on the five worst examples of wild animal attractions, with an emphasis on elephant rides – one of the most popular forms of wildlife tourism.



An Asian elephant chained up.




An Asian elephant chained up. Photograph: World Animal Protection

The charity is also launching a guide to being animal friendly on holiday, which includes advice on what to ask a tour operator before booking and things to look out for when you are abroad. However Baker says tourists should also use their common sense. 

“If an animal is doing something it wouldn’t do in the wild then it’s probably not right and something has gone on to make them behave that way,” he says. “Take elephant rides – you couldn’t just jump on a wild elephant’s back, there’s a process to get them there. They’re chained up, beaten. And what we’ve realised is most people don’t want that.”

Another form of wild animal tourism that has become particularly widespread in recent years are parks or “sanctuaries” where visitors can pose for photos with tigers – popularised by the “tiger selfie” trend. This is similar to experiences in which tourists can walk with lions.



A macaque performs tricks for tourists in Thailand.
A macaque performs tricks for tourists in Thailand. Photograph: World Animal Protection

According to World Animal Protection, both these types of attraction involve removing cubs from their mothers at a young age, where they are beaten and punished to train them. In some cases the animals are drugged to make them more compliant. 

Other types of wild animal experiences the charity hopes to end are swimming with captive dolphins and dancing macaques shows.

“This report is the first time we’ve been able to confirm the reality of these practices and underpin it with research,” says Baker. “We’ve also realised the scale of it. There are around 16,000 elephants in capitvity – that’s a quarter of the total number on the planet.”

According to Baker there has been a marked shift on this issue in the travel industry. Earlier this year, tour operator Intrepid Travel announced it would no longer offer elephant rides on any of its trips. In May STA Travel, which provides holidays for 2.5 million students and young people each year, stopped offering tours that include elephant rides or trips to the Tiger Temple in Thailand, as well as ending trips to SeaWorld Orlando and San Diego.

Tourists who want to experience animals while on holiday should be visiting the animals “carefully and ethically” in their natural habitats, says Baker.

“I’ve been on whale watching trips and safaris and when you see a dolphin skipping in the sea, or a tiger in the wild it makes the entertainment side just seem a little grubby in comparison.”

Wild animal tourism in numbers

Number of elephants in captivity worldwide – a quarter of the total number on the planet

of captive adult elephants used for tourism entertainment have been taken directly from the wild

Number of captive tigers in the US alone. In the wild there are just 3,200

Estimated number of bottlenose dolphins being used for entertainment worldwide

4 million
Number of visitors to SeaWorld San Diego in 2012

Approximate number of lions kept and bred in captivity in South Africa – double the number of those in the wild or natural reserves

Source: World Animal Protection

Through the Lens of Braeme Holland

Little did Lara know when she went to check the mail yesterday that there will be a flash drive with some amazing photos in between all the junk mail and accounts.  However when she opened the letter from Braeme she could not wait to stick the little blue flash drive into her laptop. Braeme came to visit Monkeyland, Birds of Eden and Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary and surprised us by sending us a collection of the photos he took.  If I where to load them all on here this post will take a day to open so herewith just a taste of Braeme’s beautiful photos of our amazing animals.