Understand root cause to solve human-macaque conflict

I commend Mr Russell Ng for finding a way of dealing with the problem of wild macaques roaming into the urban area (Resident takes steps to co-exist with macaques; Oct 22).

While this problem has historically been dealt with by catching and culling, Mr Ng's efforts in keeping food out of reach have proven useful.

World-renowned primatologist Agustin Fuentes attributes the issue to the fact that Singapore's urban residences are "built directly inside the monkey's natural range".

While other countries have the luxury of space to keep their nature reserves a distance away from urbanisation, our country of only 719 sq km cannot afford to do so.

This close proximity means that the presence of wild animals is inevitable.

Catching and culling wild animals may seem pragmatic but I believe that understanding the root of the problem will lead us to better solutions.

Mr Ng's efforts in not leaving food lying around, for instance, are effective, as they eliminate the macaque's motivation to venture out from its habitat in the nature reserves.

Eventually, if the macaques stop receiving food from humans, they will stop associating humans with food and thus stop attempting to interact with humans - a classic case of operant conditioning.

Greater public awareness of the true cause of the problem will allow us to co-exist with the macaques better.

Let us not make the animals pay the price of a problem that we created.

Tammy Wong Ying Qi (Ms)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 07, 2017, with the headline 'Understand root cause to solve human-macaque conflict'. Print Edition | Subscribe