Captured wild animals are exploited and abused for social media content
CAMBODIA – Animal protection nonprofits Lady Freethinker and Action for Primates are calling on the Cambodian government to take action following an investigation that has uncovered the abusive and cruel reality behind Cambodia-based “pet” baby monkey content popular on social media platforms, such as YouTube and Facebook.
Thousands of videos, amassing hundreds of millions of views, deceptively show the monkeys as “loved” pets, clothed in colorful outfits while “dancing,” spinning in circles, and playing with toys, all of which are unnatural stunts that the monkeys have been forced to perform. In the background their seemingly “loving” owners talk to them softly, smile, or laugh. Outside of the well-lit and glamorous backgrounds portrayed in the social media clips, some Cambodia-based content creators keep these monkeys in cramped and barren wire cages and feed them junk food including candy.
“What happens behind the scenes of these seemingly ‘cute’ infant monkey videos is much darker than viewers realize,” said Nina Jackel, Founder and President of Lady Freethinker. “These babies are ripped from their mothers and suffer cruel and illegal captivity. We urge the public not to watch or share this content and are calling on the Cambodian government to take action.”
“Forcibly removing and depriving infant monkeys of their mothers and raising them in captivity in unnatural conditions is extremely cruel and will result in abnormal behavior and development leading to severe psychological and physical problems. We urge the authorities to rescue these abused captive monkeys, and ensure they are sent to a reputable sanctuary,” said AFP Co-founder Sarah Kite.
Investigators met with several of the popular content creators in Cambodia. There they witnessed first-hand the inhumane living conditions of the monkeys, including five young monkeys kept in a wire cage with a wire floor without any enrichment activities or platforms, leaving the monkeys with no opportunities to engage in natural behaviors. At one site, three macaques were kept in a barren wire cage in a filthy area of the residence, with the owner claiming they were fed milk, fruit, jelly, and candy.Not all videos posted by these channels hide behind the façade of cute animals and happy owners. Some show shocking behavior used to “discipline” monkeys, like holding a macaque over a balcony and biting, hitting, and knocking the monkeys over. One channel’s disturbing uploads include a highly distressed infant macaque cruelly dumped into a chair and filmed crying for the camera and a macaque whose arms were deliberately confined in tight clothing so that the monkey was forced to walk upright. Others are forced into abnormal and stressful situations in which their clear distress, including screaming and crying, is filmed and posted online for “entertainment.” Some of the owners filmed videos in which they touched or focused their cameras on the genitals of the macaques.
A report published by the Asia for Animals Social Media Animal Cruelty Coalition (SMACC) in 2021 illustrates the widespread and escalating issue of animal cruelty content on social media platforms including YouTube, Facebook and TikTok. The report included 5,480 videos with 5,347,809,262 views. When it was possible to identify where the videos originated from, Cambodia was listed sixth out of 33 countries for content sources by volume.
It is illegal to own macaques and most other wild animals as pets in Cambodia. This practice continues, however, due to a lack of law enforcement and the easy availability of wild monkeys. They are stolen from their mothers in the forests of Cambodia by traffickers and sold to people who have little or no knowledge of animal welfare. Investigators found that these monkeys exhibited coping mechanisms associated with stress, separation, and loss.There are conservation concerns regarding the long-tailed and northern pig-tailed macaques, the main species kept as ”pets” in Cambodia. The species are protected under Appendix II in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Their status was recently increased to ‘Vulnerable’ with a decreasing population trend by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Endangered Species, the world’s most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of biological species.
Keeping wild animals as “pets” poses not just a danger to the animals themselves but to humans as well. As monkeys reach sexual maturity, they can become aggressive and attack people, resulting in serious injuries. Contact with wild monkeys – especially under conditions where animals are highly stressed – can lead to cross-species transmission of various infectious microorganisms, resulting in zoonotic diseases.
A petition from Lady Freethinker and Action for Primates calls on Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) Prime Minister Hun Sen; Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (MAFF) Minister Veng Sakhon; and Minister of Environment H.E. Say Samal to remove captive monkeys to a sanctuary and take action against those people who are subjecting monkeys to abuse and cruelty. The groups have also sent a letter to Cambodian authorities with details of the channel owners, urging officials to take action.
About Lady Freethinker:
Founded in 2013 by Nina Jackel, LFT is a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization dedicated to exposing and stopping the suffering of animals, humans and planet. Through its undercover investigations, news reporting, and petitions, LFT brings to light suffering that may otherwise go ignored and works toward lasting, systemic change. LFT also provides direct aid to animal rescue. Visit the LFT website at https://ladyfreethinker.org/
About Action for Primates:
Action for Primates (AFP) is a UK-based project that campaigns on behalf of non-human primates globally. AFP raises awareness about the plight of and threats to non-human primates around the world and works to end their exploitation, whether in captivity or in the wild. Visit the AFP website: https://actionforprimates.org