JAKARTA – Lying low in a slum in Jakarta, monkey handler Tardi does not dare take his long-tailed macaque out to perform in the streets for fear of being caught in a new crackdown.
He and fellow handlers have been keeping a low profile in recent days after city authorities launched their toughest bid yet to rescue animals that they say have been kept for years in squalid conditions.
Tied to leashes and forced to wear doll masks and beg for money as they totter along on their hind legs, the performing monkeys have long been a common sight in the teeming traffic.
But in recent years, authorities and animal rights groups have cracked down on the practice, and city Gov. Joko Widodo has now announced a plan to get macaques off the streets by 2014.
“This has become an international issue,” Widodo said. “Please have pity for these monkeys who have been abused by their owners.”
After taking power in October last year, he ordered officials to step up efforts to get the monkeys off the streets, but the campaign that got under way this week is his most ambitious yet.
A central part is offering compensation of 1 million rupiah (around $90) to every handler from whom a monkey is seized, as well as offering to train them in new professions.
To kick off the campaign, public-order officers, who assist the national police in maintaining peace, launched raids across the city. They seized 21 monkeys and sent them to be quarantined, according to officials.
The monkeys “were stressed; some tried to attack and some recoiled when we approached them,” said veterinarian Valentina Aswindrastuti from the Jakarta quarantine facility. “They also had swollen gums and rotten teeth.”
The monkeys, called “topeng monyet,” or “masked monkey,” are typically in bad health after being caged for years.
They also suffer from being trained to stand on two legs like humans, with their necks hung from wires and their arms bound.
While Jakarta still has some way to go — animal rights groups believe there are still about 200 performing monkeys in the city — activists have been encouraged by the campaign.
The Jakarta Animal Aid Network, which has helped to rescue the monkeys in the past and has campaigned vigorously on the issue, praised the offer of cash compensation.
“The scheme to provide 1 million rupiah will help the monkey handlers start a new business,” said Benvika, the animal aid network head, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.
The widely publicized campaign has scared many handlers from heading out with their monkeys.
Tardi, 41, and some of his fellow monkey handlers who live in a riverbank slum in eastern Jakarta have been lying low in recent days.
They have been angered by the crackdown, saying it could financially ruin them and that accusations of abuse are unfair.
“I’ve done this job for more than 10 years,” said the father of four, who goes by one name. “I did not go to school. This is the only skill I have to earn money.”
Handlers say they earn as much as 1.7 million rupiah ($155) a month for working a few days a week, much more than the monthly basic salary of factory workers.
They rent a monkey for 15,000 to 30,000 rupiah a day but have to pay the owners 1 million rupiah if they lose the animal.
Fellow handler Kholid Mawar insisted that the monkeys, who are kept in tiny brick enclosures, are properly looked after.
“I always feed the monkey. . . . We treat him as if he were part of our family,” said the 25-year-old, adding that he is now struggling financially at a time when his second child had just been born.
“They say we have made the monkeys suffer,” he added, “but what about us?”