Respect. Appreciate. Keep A Distance
“You don’t need to touch wild animals to care about them.”
Came across this quote on Twitter. So true.
Many people always think that we, wildlife researchers, have the chance to get close to wildlife, take selfies, cuddle and even play with them. But intimate contact between humans and wild animals creates the wrong impact towards the community, which fuels the demand to keep wild animals as pets, hence drives the illegal wildlife trade.
Sorry, what if I told you that we wildlife researchers barely get the opportunity to ‘touch’ the animals we study?
What if I told you that the wild animals don’t even like the contact with humans? (Except wildlife under rehabilitation and care)
Take us, primate field researchers as examples.
We spend days, months and years to study the monkeys. You may think this is cool as we can get in close contact with the monkeys. The truth is this is not always case. We work hard to habituate the monkeys that we study, so that they become less afraid of us and can behave normally with us around. The purpose of habituation is for us researchers to gather information about the species, on what they do, what they eat, where they go without influencing their natural behaviours in the wild. From these data we are able to develop conservation strategies to further ensure the survival of the species.
Most of the days the monkeys will be at least of 10-20m away from us. There are also times where the monkeys get comfortable with us around, deciding to stay closer and be less alert as they know we are not a threat to them. Does this means we have the so called ‘authority’ to touch them and ‘befriend’ with them?
No. As a primate researcher, I have never ever touched a wild living dusky langur. I have also never provided food or other treats to lure them closer! Why? Because this is unnecessary and leads to bad consequences.
How media portraits monkeys and apes is in a way that they usually appear cute, cheeky and charismatic. People nowadays are feeding wild animals out of sympathy, or so that they can get a chance to take photos with the animals for their Instagram or Tik Tok feed, and mostly really just to show off.
1) You think they like that you touch them?
Really? A healthy wild animal would fancy your touch? Sorry, unless you decided to feed them and spoil their health, normal wildlife is not interested to interact with human beings.
2) Once you touch them, do you actually think about the hygiene consequences?
Only have contact with wildlife when it is necessary. For example handling injured wild animals or during wildlife rehabilitation. If you happen to have close contact with a macaque, are you aware of the possible transmission of the deadly Herpes virus that the macaque can pass to you?
3) Are you sure it is safe?
Social animals like monkeys live in groups. Touching the individuals not just encourages the monkeys to be less afraid of humans, but also triggers the possibility of aggression where the monkeys may attack people for food or when feel threatened.
4) Seriously, dogs, cats, hamsters are still not enough for you?
Many people confuse between domestic animals and wildlife. Domestic animals have been living and depending on human care for centuries, while wildlife lives in its natural habitat and depends on natural resources to survive. Keeping wild animals as pets is not a way of ‘protecting animals’. Sorry, you are encouraging cruel and unethical acts such as driving the demand for wildlife trade resulting in possible disease transmission between humans and wildlife.
Let wildlife be wild and free. The objective of researchers dedicating their lives and time toward conservation is to work towards a future where humans and wildlife can co-exist with minimal conflicts. Touching wildlife may seem just a ‘minor issue’ and ‘no-big-deal’ but the ripple effects can spread the wrong message among people, which threatens the life of both wildlife, and us.
Jo Leen Yap (Head of LPP)
Nadine Ruppert (Advisor of LPP)
Under the Umbrella of:
Fun Facts about the Dusky Langur
& passionate citizens in Malaysia and around the world.