When Ms. Yu saw a rare Assam macaque for sale on the street in China, her heart went out to it. As a result, she decided to take matters into her own hands and buy the baby monkey herself. However, footage taken after the macaque’s rescue showed just how traumatized the animal really was.
It’s fair to say that Ms. Yu is a fan of creatures great and small – so much so, in fact, that she is part of the Olive Tree Stray Animal Relief Association in Jinghong, China. And Jinghong itself is situated in the province of Yunnan – China’s most biodiverse region.
Yunnan boasts both snowy mountains and tropical rainforests, meaning a rich array of wildlife calls the province home. In fact, despite covering just four percent of the land in China, Yunnan contains around 780 species of birds and 250 species of mammals – including some that are endangered.
One of the region’s most at-risk inhabitants is the Yunnan snub-nosed monkey; the extraordinary looking primate is so named because of the way in which its lack of nasal bones has affected its appearance. There are thought to be only 2,000 or so of the species left in the wild.
The Assam macaque can also be found in Yunnan, and that species too is threatened: there are only 8,000 of the monkeys said to still live in China. So, when Ms. Yu spotted an Assam macaque on the city streets, she was understandably concerned.
The animal in question had seemingly been snatched from the wild and was now being sold by a local street vendor. Sadly, though, the monkey was not alone in its plight; among its species’ many threats are the illegal pet and medicine trades.
In fact, Assam macaques – like many smaller primate species – are highly sought-after pets in some places. The species’ suitability to domestic life is up for debate, however; critics may say, for instance, that ripping the animals from the large social groups they inhabit in the wild is cruel.
But a solitary existence isn’t the worst thing that may happen to a macaque should it fall into the hands of humans. Unfortunately, some monkey body parts – including the animal’s skin, organs and meat – are also bought and sold in China.
Indeed, in certain regions of southern China, a small number of people consider monkey brain to be a delicacy. The ritual of eating the organ is particularly gruesome, since diners typically break open the animals’ skulls while the primates are still living. And there’s said to be a benefit to this action: apparently, the brain makes those who consume it more intelligent.
It’s not known if Ms. Yu was fully aware of the potential barbarity that faced the macaque on the street. Still, she had her concerns that the animal could fall into the hands of “bad guys,” according to a July 2018 report by China News. As a consequence, then, she decided to step in and save the primate from an uncertain future.
So, Ms. Yu bought the macaque herself and took it home until she could find a more permanent solution. She fed the monkey with milk and fruit and gave it a small toy for comfort. And by the look of things, the poor animal needed all the reassurance it could get.
Later, Ms. Yu revealed that the Assam macaque was so frightened that it wouldn’t leave the safety of her arms. Two days passed, then, before the animal’s rescuer finally handed on responsibility for its care to the Jinghong City Forest Public Security Bureau.
In turn, officers from the bureau transported the macaque to the Xishuangbanna Wildlife Rescue Station. Footage believed to be taken from the facility also showed just how traumatized the little monkey was from its ordeal. And, quite frankly, the animal’s behavior is heartbreaking to watch.
In the clip, which was released by Xinhua News Agency, the macaque clings onto his caregiver’s arm and refuses to let go. The behavior was almost identical to that Ms. Yu had experienced; she had believed it was down to the fact that the monkey was still too small to be without its mother.
Baby monkeys generally have close bonds with their mothers, who are usually the primary caretakers for their young. It’s very common, too, for the little ones to hang onto their moms’ backs or necks – not unlike the way Ms. Yu’s macaque clung to the humans who were looking after him.
But despite the animal’s traumatic start in life, its future looked bright. Indeed, after the monkey had spent time at the Xishuangbanna Wildlife Rescue Station, it would ultimately be released into the world. Firstly, though, the macaque would have to learn how to fend for itself under its human guardians’ guidance.
Hopefully, scenes like the ones depicted in the video of Ms. Yu’s monkey will one day be a thing of the past, as the Assam macaque is under state protection in China and elsewhere. Even given those measures, though, the species is still listed as “near threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
And as awareness of the Assam macaque’s plight increases, so too does the stigma around owning one of the monkeys. In 2016 a Chinese man from Yunnan even handed his macaque to an area nature reserve bureau after having kept the animal as a pet for 14 years.
At the time, Wang Xinwen from the bureau told Xinhua News Agency, “We went to [the man’s] home and found an Assam macaque… but the villager did not seem to be aware of [its protected status].” Instead, it seemed that the man had always tried to do his best for the monkey.
The individual concerned had claimed he had taken pity on the macaque after he noticed it had hurt its hands. He therefore bought the animal and went on to develop a strong bond with it over the years. Ultimately, though, he was able to put the monkey’s needs first – and allowed it to go free.