Covid-19 impact: Monkeys on Da Nang streets raise health concerns

By Nguyen Quy, Nguyen Dong   April 24, 2020 | 05:00 am PT
Covid-19 impact: Monkeys on Da Nang streets raise health concerns
A group of wild monkeys flock to Da Nang streets to seek food, April 22, 2020. Photto by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong.
Troops of wild monkeys foraging for food in Da Nang streets have sparked safety and disease transmission concerns.

A troop of around 100 wild monkeys were spotted Wednesday at the intersection of Hoang Sa and Le Van Luong streets at the foot of Da Nang's Son Tra Peninsula in central Vietnam, looking for food.

Over the past several days, the city's Dong Dinh private museum has also been visited by many monkeys.

"The monkeys pluck jackfruit and mangoes planted in the garden. After plucking all the fruits, they leave," said Doan Huy Giao, owner of the museum.

Vo Dinh Cong, a local official, said that these monkeys typically gather in front of Linh Ung Pagoda in the Son Tra Peninsula, waiting for tourists to feed them. While Da Nang closed its tourist destinations to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, the wild monkeys have hit the streets rather than look for food in the forest.

"We put up warning signs regularly to remind people not to feed wild monkeys, but many people are still not aware of the harmful effects of feeding wild animals. As long as one person feeds them, the monkeys will continue to appear," said Cong, adding that on the Son Tra Peninsula, there have been many cases reported of wild monkeys attacking tourists.

Monkeys chase each other on the electric wire when one picks up two packets of bread, April 22, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong.

Monkeys chase each other after one picks up two packets of bread in Son Tra Peninsula, Da Nang City, April 22, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong. 

Tran Thang, head of the Son Tra Forest Protection Department in Ngu Hanh Son District, said many tourists in Son Tra feed monkeys with candies and bananas, which got them used to being fed, and they became aggressive in demanding food and even stealing from tourists. Such commotion on the road has also become a traffic safety issue.

While the immediate solution is to warn people to let the monkeys find food for themselves, in the long term, we might seek local authorities’ approval to remove the monkeys to another place, Thang said.

Researchers say that by feeding the wild animals, tourists have changed their living habits. From searching for food in their natural habitat, some monkeys have switched to food meant for humans, which is not really good for their digestive system.

Ecologist Ha Thang Long, founder of the GreenViet Biodiversity Conservation Center, a Danang-based non-government organization that does biodiversity research, said that in addition to the negative impact on the monkeys, direct contact between humans and wild animals increases the risk of spreading infectious diseases from monkeys to humans.

Many reports said wild animals have been identified as the link allowing the novel coronavirus to jump to humans, similar to the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2002 and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in 2012.

The novel coronavirus, which causes Covid-19 that has claimed more than 191,000 lives after spreading to 210 countries and territories, could have originated from bats that passed on the virus to humans through an intermediate host.  

The wild monkeys that flock to Linh Ung Pagoda and a few other tourist sites in Son Tra Peninsula also visit a nearby landfill in their search for food.

Local conservationists say a belief that it is a merit-gaining gesture to feed the monkeys has also exacerbated the problem. 

Le Xuan Tung, a nature photographer in Da Nang, said: "I had never thought that our goodwill would affect their natural instinct in such a negative way."

Tung expressed regret for his personal contribution to the problem, saying he has offered fruit to the monkeys as a reward for their "cooperation" in his photo shoots.

An aerial view of Son Tra Peninsula in Da Nang City. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong. 

An aerial view of Son Tra Peninsula in central Vietnam. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong. 

The Son Tra Peninsula, which covers more than 4,400 hectares (10,880 acres), acts as a natural shield for Da Nang. It was originally an island before ocean currents and sediment linked it with the mainland.

It is now around 10 kilometers to the northeast of downtown Da Nang and bordered by the sea in three directions.

Last year, Da Nang received 3.5 million foreign tourists, up 22.5 percent over 2018, according to the local tourism department. Arrivals from South Korea, mainland China, Japan and Hong Kong showed the highest growth rates.

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