Hand-fed simians plunge Da Nang peninsula in crisis

By Nguyen Dong   March 20, 2022 | 02:00 am PT
Hand-fed simians plunge Da Nang peninsula in crisis
Monkeys beg people for food on Hoang Sa Street, Da Nang's Son Tra peninsula, March 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong
After years of human intervention, monkeys in Da Nang's Son Tra Peninsula have grown used to being fed and now refuse to return to the woods.

On Thursday afternoon, dozens of people were waiting near Le Van Luong Street of Da Nang's Son Tra District to feed the monkeys bread, cakes and fruits while posing for pictures and videos.

Just steps away a panel warns people not to feed the animals, with two guards from the Management Board of Son Tra and Da Nang beaches stationed nearby.

People only left when 35-year-old Thanh Truc, a volunteer, came and stopped them. Truc then collected scraps of food left on the ground to deposit in trash bins far away from the peninsula.

"Many volunteers who came to remind people not to feed the monkeys were even threatened," she said.

It all started in April 2020 when Da Nang entered a period of social distancing due to Covid-19, meaning no tourist could visit Linh Ung Pagoda at the time. Locals began feeding the monkeys along the streets of Hoang Sa and Le Van Luong ever since.

Whenever someone stops by, dozens of monkeys would come up to beg for food. They even fight one another and scare people if they don't give them food.

Over time, the monkeys of Son Tra began to change their behavior, no longer entering the woods to find food but begging for it by the roads. They are willing to consume anything, from bread to soda to milk. Many of them became obese as a result, some even losing fur due to the presence of salt in their diet.

Residents of Le Van Luong Street now don't dare open their doors and windows, lest the monkeys come right in.

Tran Thang, head of the Son Tra-Ngu Hanh Son forest protection department, said the monkeys have been fed by humans for so long that whenever they catch a whiff of food, they would come running.

Feeding the monkeys also harbors the risk of traffic accidents, for both monkeys and humans. Thang said a family on a motorbike once rode right into a lake while watching the monkeys, and that a monkey had its leg amputated after a motorbike ran over it.

Nguyen Duc Vu, head of the Management Board of Son Tra and Da Nang beaches, said it was very difficult to put a stop to people feeding the monkeys. There could be thousands of them in the area, while board personnel are few and lack wildlife expertise, he explained.

On Friday, at a meeting between local authorities and volunteers to discuss the matter of people feeding wild monkeys in Son Tra, a forest protection representative said it is difficult to keep the monkeys away due to a lack of tranquilizer guns. There are also no regulations to fine the act of feeding monkeys, and simply chasing them away may provoke community backlash.

A volunteer group said a short-term solution is to remind people not to feed the monkeys, either through loudspeakers or flyers. City authorities could also instruct schools to tell students not to feed the monkeys, and the kids could relay the message back to their parents, the group suggested.

Dao Dang Cong Trung, a volunteer, said people would still feed the monkeys despite all the warnings due to their curiosity and love for animals.

"Authorities need to be more present in areas where people frequently feed the monkeys. In the long run, their food supply would need to be cut so they could return to the woods," Trung said.

Anthony Barker, a zoologist from the U.K., said food supply needs to be cut from the monkeys, which would include food found in trash bins and that given by people. It would take the same amount of time it took to change monkey behavior before their behavior could be reverted back to normal. If it is delayed and the monkeys continue to thrive on human food, the problem would be much more costly to be fixed, he warned.

Monkeys could get more aggressive and scour the areas for food once their supply is cut, but there is no other way. If all else fail, drastic measures like castrating the monkeys might need to be considered, he added.

Quach Huu Son, deputy head of the Da Nang forest protection department, said trash bins where monkeys could easily get food from need to be replaced. Rangers and police forces should also patrol the areas frequently, and tranquilizer guns need to be purchased to handle monkeys entering residential areas.

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