Monkeys who “dance” in street shows in Pakistan have high levels of stress hormones, abnormal behavior and poor health, researchers say – but stopping such shows would create a welfare crisis for trainers and their families.
Brought from the wild as infants, rhesus macaques are kept by traveling trainers throughout South and Southeast Asia and are asked to perform dance steps, tricks, and acrobatics on small leashes. While some viewers find the exhibits “cute” and “funny”, child analyzes have confirmed that the animals live with constant and dangerous levels of stress.
The findings underline the brutal reality of a trade based on hierarchical trading groups that keep both the monkeys and their low-income trainers in harsh conditions, says Mishaal Akbar at the University of Glasgow, UK.
“This is as much a human rights and human welfare issue as it is an animal rights and animal welfare issue,” she says.
Akbar, who grew up in Pakistan, wanted to investigate the plight of these “highly social and intelligent” dancing monkeys, who are chained, beaten and starved during training. The current law does not effectively protect animals, she says.
Akbar teamed up with Neil Evans of the University of Glasgow to determine the animals’ long-term stress hormone levels through hair samples, which record any changes in normal hormone activity over the past three months.
After gaining approval from the group leaders to talk to the trainers working under them, the pair collected 50 rhesus macaques (macaca mulatta) is used in dancing monkey shows in and around Islamabad, Pakistan. All the monkeys except two were male, which are preferred in the trade because they are larger and attract more attention from tourists. For comparison, the researchers also clipped the chest hair of 77 rhesus macaques living freely in a primate sanctuary with minimal human intervention in Florida.
Akbar and Evans found that the average concentration of the stress hormone cortisol was 55 percent higher in the fur of performing monkeys than that of sanctuary monkeys. Meanwhile, the average testosterone concentration in the performing male monkeys was 55 percent lower. Akbar says low testosterone may indicate that the male monkeys have accepted their trainers as dominant.
Dancing monkeys usually show signs of fear and aggressive movements during performances, including poor body posture and abnormal behavior such as finger sucking and self-biting. Their lifespan was also significantly shorter, living an average of 12 years compared to an average of 27 years among the sanctuary’s monkeys.
“I think it should be expected that monkeys that are kept in conditions like the dancing monkeys in Pakistan will have more stress and poorer health,” says Amanda Detmer at Yale University. Part of the issue, she says, is that many people don’t recognize what sad monkeys look like. “People think that a monkey is smiling at them, and they think it’s cute and funny, when in reality it’s a fear gesture.”
Akbar says the trainers – who are usually groomed as children by family members to join their trade group, or baradari – understand that their monkeys live hard lives. Still, these trainers say they and their families would face even greater hardship without the income from their dancing monkey shows.
Because the trainers work on a pyramid-like scheme – paying group leaders within their barada a percentage of their income – the men have a professional and cultural obligation to continue the business at the risk of losing their jobs and their homes. Is.
“One of the reasons they stay in this business is that they want to send their children to school, so they don’t have to stay in this profession,” says Akbar. ,[We should avoid] Demonizing specific communities who are forced to participate in it for their livelihood.”
“It’s a hard problem,” says Jerrold Meyer of the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He says he hopes the findings can put pressure on authorities to “crack down on how these animals are being treated.”
Akbar says offering a sustainable alternative to dancing monkey trainers – an approach that helped end the dancing bear trade in India – could provide relief to both humans and monkeys.