Action for Primates

Long-tailed macaques, photo by Sarah Kite
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Use of Non-human Primates as Labour

The issue

The intelligence and manual dexterity of many non-human primates has resulted in their exploitation as 'workers' in different settings. Denied their freedom, these animals are usually deprived of the companionship of other non-human primates and forced to take part in unnatural activities purely to benefit people.

'Helping' hands: Monkeys, particularly capuchins, are 'trained' to help disabled people with various tasks (King 2016). In virtually all cases, the monkey is deprived of not only a natural environment, but also the companionship of others of their kind. In some cases, as often happens with captive non-human primates, the monkeys will become a danger to the person (Anon 2010). The American Veterinary Medical Association, the largest veterinary medical organisation worldwide, is opposed to the use of non-human primates as 'service' or assistance animals because of welfare and public health concerns (AVMA 2022). Further, non-human primates are not recognised as "service animals" under the Americans with Disabilities Act (US Department of Justice 2020).

'Waiters: Japanese macaques (Macaca fuscata) are used as 'waiters' as a means of attracting customers in Japan (Anon 2017; McTraveller 2016). The monkeys are forced to wear costumes, such as a waiter's shirt and skirt, and serve beer to guests and carry out other tasks. The animals are forced to walk on their hind legs. This 'bipedal walking' is normally used by these macaques over short distances. Forced, continuous locomotion in this manner, however, is not natural and might lead to joint and muscle damage.

Southern pig-tailed macaque forced to 'pick' coconuts in Thailand
Southern pig-tailed macaque
forced to 'pick' coconuts, Thailand

Picking coconuts: Macaques, northern pig-tailed Macaca leonina) or southern pig-tailed (Macaca nemestrina), are used to 'pick' coconuts in Malaysia and Thailand (Barclay 2015; Ruslin et al 2017). The macaques appear to be largely wild-caught (Smith-Squire 2015; Wongsamuth 2015). An investigation carried out in 2020, and updated in 2022, exposed the mistreatment and abuse of captive pig-tailed macaques, kept chained in terrible conditions and forced to climb trees and pick coconuts (PeTA 2022). Another study demonstrated the welfare of the macaques was not good (Schowe et al 2021). The public are not supportive of using monkeys to pick coconuts (Anon 2020).

Detonating landmines: The government of Morocco purportedly had trained monkeys, possibly Barbary macaques (Macaca sylvanus), to detonate landmines (Anon 2003a). It was reported that Morocco offered the US forces a large number of these monkeys, to use them for detonating land mines planted by the Iraqis (Anon 2003b).

Way forward

The severe deprivation and cruelty towards the monkeys is untenable. In all these situations, other than detonating land mines, the obvious alternative is to utilise the services of people. It is widely known that unemployment is a major worldwide issue for people, resulting in severe poverty. Rather than exploit and inflict suffering on non-human primates, it would be far better, even if one's interest was just people, to provide jobs in the various service fields.

Other alternatives for providing care for disabled individuals include sophisticated mechanical devices such as the care-providing robotic system FRIEND (Functional Robot arm with user-frIENdly interface for Disabled people), a semi-autonomous robot designed to support disabled and elderly people in their daily life activities (Wikipedia 2016).

There are alternatives to using non-human primates (and other non-human animals) for finding and neutralising landmines, such as mechanical mine clearing machines (Wikipedia 2020).


  1. American Veterinary Medical Association 2022-01-01 Nonhuman primates as assistance animals American Veterinary Medical Association accessed 2022-09-29
  2. The AVMA does not support the use of nonhuman primates as assistance animals because of animal welfare concerns, the potential for serious injury, and zoonotic risks.
  3. Anonymous 2003-03-24a Morocco offers US monkeys to detonate mine UPI accessed 2020-10-23
  4. Anonymous 2003-03-24b Morocco offers US monkeys to detonate mine The Washington Times accessed 2022-10-06
  5. Anonymous 2010-03-31 Service monkey bites owner... again NBC2 News
  6. Anonymous 2017-08-10 The Monkey Business: Little Macaques Serve Food At This Restaurant - The Quint YouTube accessed 2020-10-23
  7. This is the extraordinary Japanese restaurant where monkeys serve drinks and wait tables. The Kayabukiya Tavern, in Utsunomiya, Tochigi prefecture, has been employing macaques for 29 years...
  8. Anonymous 2020-02-14 Monkeys to Blame for Thailand's Struggling Coconut Industry Chiang Rai Times accessed 2020-04-18
  9. Barclay, Eliza 2015-10-19 What's Funny About The Business Of Monkeys Picking Coconuts? NPR accessed 2020-04-06
  10. King, Barbara J. 2016-08-02 Is It Cruel to Have a Monkey Helper? The Atlantic accessed 2020-06-19
  11. But humans are exceptionally skilled at putting their needs first over other animals'. With these primate cousins of ours, we alter their lives with a firm eye on human benefits and a reluctance to consider the cost to the capuchins themselves. The greater kindness is to allow monkeys to live their lives as monkeys.
  12. McTraveller, Fatty 2016-07-29 Kayabuki Tavern (The Famous Monkey Bar in Japan) YouTube accessed 2020-10-23
  13. PeTA 2022-06-07 Monkeys Chained, Abused for Coconut Milk People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals accessed 2022-10-06
  14. Ruslin, Farhani; Azmi, Mohd Asrol; Matsuda, Ikki; Amir, Ruslin and Md-Zain, Badrul Munir 2017-01-01 Monkey school : Training phases for coconut-picking macaques (Macaca nemestrina) Malayan Nature Journal 69(4):301-306.
  15. Schowe, Devan; Svensson, Magdalena S.; Siriwat, Penthai; José-Domínguez, Juan Manuel; Fourage, Anna; Malaivijitnond, Suchinda and Nijman, Vincent 2021-09-01 Assessing the welfare of coconut-harvesting macaques in Thailand Applied Animal Behaviour Science 242:105415.
  16. Smith-Squire, Alison 2015-09-30 Abducted as babies, chained up and trained to pick 1,000 coconuts every day: Revealed, how the billion-pound coconut water industry is built on the abuse of monkeys Mail Online accessed 2020-10-23
  17. United Nations undated Landmines United Nations accessed 2020-10-23
  18. US Department of Justice 2020-02-24 Service Animals US Department of Justice accessed 2022-10-02
  19. Beginning on March 15, 2011, only dogs are recognized as service animals under titles II and III of the ADA.
  20. Wikipedia 2016-11-15 Care-Providing Robot FRIEND Wikipedia accessed 2020-10-23
  21. Wikipedia 2020-10-21 Demining Wikipedia accessed 2020-10-23
  22. Wongsamuth, Nanchanok 2015-09-06 Pay coconuts, get monkeys Bangkok Post accessed 2020-10-23