Mad about macaques – celebrating International Macaque Week

It’s time to celebrate these remarkable monkeys and their key role in maintaining forests. But, it’s also time for action – these heavily exploited primates need your help.

A baby macaque monkey sitting on the forest floor amongst leaves and bushes, lookjng up at the camera

International macaque week logo

Each year, the first week of May marks International Macaque Week, to promote awareness for one of the world’s most heavily persecuted groups of primates. 

Macaques are among the most widely dispersed and adaptable primates. However, their ability to survive and thrive in human-dominated landscapes can give a false impression of high numbers and has led to their widespread persecution as ‘pests’. They are intelligent, emotional, and thoughtful, yet sadly, are one on the most exploited and misunderstood wild mammals on Earth.

Are macaques endangered? 

Of the 24 species recognised by the IUCN*, nine are classified as Endangered and eight as Vulnerable, with two – Celebes crested macaque (Macaca nigra) and the Pagai Island macaque (Macaca pagensis) – classified as Critically Endangered. The global populations of the majority of macaque species (21 of 24) are decreasing. International Macaque Week is an opportunity to promote awareness and encourage empathy and compassion towards macaques, and highlight the work that many organisations, including Born Free, are doing to protect them.

Coordinated by the Asia for Animals Macaque Coalition of which Born Free is a member organisation, the theme for International Macaque Week 2024 is Macaque Positivity: Celebrating Macaque Lives. Throughout this week, the focus will be on what makes macaques special and why it is important that they are protected.

Ten reasons why macaques are special:

  1. Macaques constitute a genus – Macaca – of approximately 24 species of monkey. They have the widest geographical range of any genus of primates: they can be found right across Asia from Japan and Indonesia in the east, to Afghanistan in the west, and one species – the barbary macaque (Macaca sylvanus) – can even be found in North Africa (Morocco and Algeria) and Europe (introduced to Gibraltar).
  2. The population of barbary macaques living in Gibraltar is the only population of wild monkeys living in Europe.
  3. The exact number of species of macaques is debated, and occasionally new species are identified. For example, in 2022, researchers advocated for the recognition of a new species of macaque in India – the Sela macaque (Macaca selai).
  4. Female macaques are excellent mothers – like most primates, young macaques are dependent on their mothers for up to a year after they are born, and the emotional bonds formed during this critical period can last a lifetime. Female macaques normally stay in their natal group (the group they were born into), meaning they will live alongside their mothers their entire life.
  5. The males of some species of macaque also make excellent fathers – for barbary macaques, it is the fathers that carry and look after the young most of the time, rather than the mothers.
  6. Macaques are gardeners of the forest – when they ingest fruit, they often swallow seeds whole, which pass through their gut, and are deposited in their dung, effectively planting a tree in a pile of compost. They therefore play a crucial role in maintaining the forest, which benefits a multitude of species that depend on the trees, as well as the planet.
  7. They are also a key part of their ecological community as they are an important prey species for various carnivores such as leopards, tigers, and raptors.
  8. Many macaque species and populations have developed their own cultures and behaviours. Famously, in 1965, one population of Japanese macaques (Macaca fuscata) in Nagano, Japan, learnt to keep themselves warm by immersing themselves in geothermal pools in the Shiga Heights. This behaviour has been passed down the generations, and this population of macaques still bathes in the hot waters to this day.
  9. A population of another macaque species – long-tailed macaques (Maca fascicularis) – have learnt to wash the sand off fruit in the river before eating it.
  10. Macaques are incredibly intelligent and resourceful. A population of long-tailed macaques in Bali have learnt to steal tourists’ valuables, including phones, wallets, and glasses, and hold them ransom until they are given food in payment. Incredibly, it appears they have learnt which items are most valuable, in order to ‘maximise their profit’.

Trade of macaques

Sadly, in recent years there has been a big increase in global demand for live primates, particularly long-tailed macaques, for use in biomedical and toxicological research. As a result, exports of live long-tailed macaques have increased markedly, reaching almost half a million, in the decade between 2012-2021. An additional four million parts and products derived from the species were also exported during that period, making the long-tailed macaque the most heavily traded non-human primate globally.

A macaque peering through the bars of a cage

© J McArthur

While exporting countries claim that the animals destined for trade are bred in specialised captive breeding facilities, the increase in global demand has led to prices rising sharply, with some reports suggesting that individual live macaques are fetching tens of thousands of dollars. This has in turn led to concerns that large numbers of macaques are being captured from the wild by traders to stock breeding farms and, in some cases, to be laundered directly into trade under the guise of being bred in captivity, placing extra pressure on wild populations already threatened by loss and degradation of habitat, capture for the pet trade, hunting for consumption, and persecution.

In a high-profile case in 2022, the US Fish and Wildlife Service indicted Cambodian officials and directors of a company that trades in long-tailed macaques on suspicion that animals were being illegally taken from the wild and exported to the United States. Representatives of US-based biomedical research industries have also cynically challenged the scientific basis for the species’ ‘Endangered’ classification.

Born Free is working with experts and partner organisations to secure maximum protection for long-tailed macaques against the trade, and to encourage the urgent development and adoption of non-animal research methods, in order to prevent increasingly vulnerable wild populations from declining further.

You can help support Born Free’s efforts to end the exploitation of macaques by donating today.


Find out more about our work to protect Macaques: