8 min read

Baby Monkey Forced To 'Dance' For Tourists Is Finally Freed

He went from being starved to eating all the fruit he wants.

<p>Jakarta Animal Aid Network</p>

They found the monkey standing on two wooden stilts, a metal chain locked around his neck. The handler pulled the chain, and the monkey jerked into action, moving forward on the stilts like an acrobat. When the monkey stopped, the handler yanked the chain again, forcing the animal to move again.

Dodo performing on stilts in Bangung, Indonesia | Jakarta Animal Aid Network

This macaque monkey, named Dodo by his rescuers, was being used as a "dancing monkey" in Indonesia. It's estimated that people steal over 3,000 baby macaques from the Indonesian forest each year. They do this by wounding the mothers, forcing them to abandon their offspring.

Most baby macaques are sold to international pharmaceutical groups or universities, where they'll be used as research subjects. Others are sold in wildlife markets as pets, or to become dancing monkeys like Dodo.

Despite their name, "dancing monkeys" don't really dance. Instead they're forced to perform silly tricks like riding bikes, playing tiny instruments, or doing acrobatic tricks like walking on stilts. It's also pretty common for handlers to dress dancing monkeys in clothes, or make them wear masks made out of old doll heads.

Other dancing monkeys are forced to ride bikes and wear clothes. | Jakarta Animal Aid Network

In between tricks, the monkeys will beg for money, which is how their handlers make a living.

The training process is unthinkably cruel. The first step is to train the monkeys to stand up straight like a human. Handlers will tie the monkeys' arms behind their backs and hang the animals up by the necks, forcing them to stand up straight. If the monkeys try to sit down or climb their chain, they'll choke themselves to death. Once the macaques learn to stand up, handlers use hunger and pain to teach them tricks.

A monkey being "trained" to stand straight like a human | Jakarta Animal Aid Network

The training process usually takes four to six months, and the monkeys have to endure four to six hours of torture each day. The macaques who survive the grueling training process will then perform for five to 10 years. After that, they become too aggressive to handle, and they'll be sold off for their meat.

The chains around the monkeys' necks never come off. In fact, the chains often grow into their skin, leading to infection and tetanus.

Dodo with his heavy chain | Jakarta Animal Aid Network

The Jakarta Animal Aid Network (JAAN) has been campaigning for a total ban on dancing monkeys in Indonesia since 2009. In 2013, the group successfully obtained a ban in Jakarta, Indonesia's capitol. Then in 2016, JAAN helped place a ban on dancing monkeys in the West Java province of Indonesia.

Working with local police, JAAN members discovered Dodo in the city of Bangung, the capital of Indonesia's West Java province, and confiscated him from his handler.

"Dodo was in very poor condition," Femke den Haas, cofounder of JAAN, told The Dodo. "He was very, very depressed, as if the life had been beaten out of him."

Jakarta Animal Aid Network

Back at JAAN's quarantine center in Jakarta, the rescue team cut the chain off from Dodo's neck, which must have been a huge relief for the young monkey.

He might have been free from his chain, but Dodo was still traumatized. "He didn't give any happy reaction to anything, except for food," den Haas said. "For the rest of the time during meals, Dodo would sit depressed in a corner of the cage, despite all efforts of the caretakers to keep him busy and happy with enrichments."

But Dodo does love to eat. According to den Haas, he eats like he's never seen food before, probably because his handler had starved him. Dodo's favourite foods are grapes and rambutan fruits, which are similar to lychees.

"It makes me angry to see a monkey like Dodo who has been abused so badly in his early stage of life," said den Haas. "He should still be hanging onto his mum, drinking her milk and receiving her warmth and care. Instead he was beaten and in pain daily, only to be gaining money for some heartless and egoistic, cruel people."

Each day, Dodo improves. He's slowly gaining weight and taking more interest in his surroundings, and starting to react to his caretakers in a positive way.

Den Haas is confident that Dodo will make a full recovery - but it will take time. "Dodo will be introduced to other monkeys after he has fulfilled his three-month quarantine period and will be the socialized into a group," she said. "After that, the JAAN team will rehabilitate him back into the wild."

JAAN likes to release former dancing monkeys on islands with private forests. The forests provide plenty of food for the monkeys, and the islands' isolation from the mainland protects the monkeys from being recaptured by poachers.

Dodo looking a little happier! | Jakarta Animal Aid Network

JAAN is currently campaigning to get a national ban on dancing monkeys in Indonesia. To help the group achieve this goal, you can donate here. You can also sponsor a former dancing monkey like Dodo.