Abeunger holdt som kæledyr deles i videoer på sociale medier

Five reasons why monkey videos online are cruel

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The Social Media Animal Cruelty Coalition (SMACC) — a collaboration of various animal protection organisations, including World Animal Protection — investigated over 1,200 seemingly “innocent” social media videos of macaques being bathed, dressed in clothes, or ‘rescued’ that were shared across multiple social media platforms. Here’s five things you should know:

1. Macaques are exploited for baby-like content

In the wild, baby macaques typically stay with their mothers for a year or longer. These long-term bonds are essential for their mental and emotional well-being, particularly considering these animals live their whole lives in large, multigenerational family groups.

But baby macaques are also seen as perfect victims for creating ‘cute’ social media content where they are treated like human babies. Videos showing macaques wearing nappies or baby clothes, being bottle-fed and bathed, and being cradled or kissed by their human “mum” or “dad” are among the most popular. While these videos may seem heartwarming and harmless to the ill-advised viewer, the animal’s welfare is actually compromised.

The macaques used for social media content are often only a few days old, isolated from the large family groups that bring them comfort. For complex, social animals, this can cause irreparable harm, altering their brain function, compromising their physical health, and lowering their life expectancy.

 

Aber udklædt i mennesketøj får mange klik og likes på sociale medier.

Credit: SMACC

2. They endure physical and psychological suffering for entertainment

Another popular type of video shows macaques being forced to perform human-like behaviours, like eating food, playing with flowers, walking on their back legs, and carrying objects — all for the purpose of entertainment.

These macaques are not only forced to perform unnatural tricks, but the methods used to train and manage them are also cruel. Trainers often use negative reinforcement, like physical punishment or withholding food, when they do not comply with commands.

The monkey abuse often continues off-camera too. They can be kept in small cages, given poor or inappropriate food, and little to no social interaction. These factors combine to leave abused monkeys with severe health issues, including conditions like diabetes and emotional trauma.

Macaco vestido com roupas humanas está sendo "apertado" por uma pessoa.

Credit: SMACC

3. Their fear is misinterpreted as joy

One of the difficulties SMACC, World Animal Protection, and other animal welfare workers face in challenging this content is that viewers (and some well-meaning owners) misunderstand monkey behaviours and interpret their reactions from a distinctly human perspective.

In many of the monkey abuse videos, researchers found show macaques displaying a wide ‘grin’. This is often perceived as a smile, indicating pleasure or joy. This grimace is a common primate behaviour used to express fear, nervousness, or extreme submission. Far from enjoying the experiences, these macaques were attempting to communicate their fear.

Monkeys are sentient beings that experience a rich inner world of emotions. Viewers are quick to assume that they feel joy or amusement, instead of recognising it as pain, suffering, and misery.

 

Pet macaques suffering for social media content

Credit: SMACC

4. They are sold as pets on social media, fuelling illegal wildlife trade

Many macaque species are endangered, including 35% of those most often exploited for social content, like the southern pig-tailed, long-tailed, and stump-tailed macaques.

And yet they are sold on social media. This trading, often misleadingly advertised as “adoption”, not only leads to more monkeys being abused (as they are usually purchased to be kept for entertainment or as pets) but also endangers wildlife populations.

Obtaining baby macaques from the wild often involves killing other members of their social group as they try to protect the target animal from harm.

This is particularly concerning given their endangered status and can have devastating impacts on the stability and integrity of the remaining wild population.

5. They carry diseases that can be transmitted to humans

Keeping wild animals in such close proximity to humans doesn’t just pose a grave risk to the animals. It also presents a hazard to humans. Macaques carry a wide range of diseases that can be passed to humans, including Ebola, herpes, and SARSE.

Macaque farm

Credit: World Animal Protection / Jan Schmidt Burbach

How to help stop monkey abuse on social media

It’s clear that monkey content on social media can be profoundly harmful but we can help challenge the popularity of these photographs and videos.

We strongly urge everyone to:

  • Stop sharing or engaging with social media contentinvolving these wild animals. This includes commenting, even if you are aiming to raise awareness of their plight.
  • Create your own post or share ours to highlight this issuewithout raising the profile of content creators who are fuelling monkey abuse.
  • Report the monkey abuse video to the relevant social media platform; you can also report any social media content involving macaques and more directly to SMACC.
Wild macaque, Malaysia from iStock by Getty Images

A male long-tailed macaque in the wild in Malaysia. Credit: iStock. by Getty Images

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