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Crested black macaque
Macaca nigra


CITES: Appendix II (What is CITES?)
IUCN Red List: M. nigra: CR (What is Red List?)
Key: CR = Critically endangered
(Click on species name to see IUCN Red List entry, including detailed status assessment information.)

The most serious conservation concerns facing crested black macaques on Sulawesi are habitat destruction and fragmentation and hunting. The total population is estimated to be between 4000 and 6000 individuals. On Bacan, where the human population density is lower, timber extraction is not as widespread, and the people traditionally do not hunt monkeys. The result is a booming population, with estimates ranging up to 100,000 (Rosenbaum et al. 1998b; Bynum et al. 1999).


Threat: Human-Induced Habitat Loss and Degradation

On Sulawesi, the highest densities of human populations are concentrated in the far southwest and northeast corners of the island. In the northeast, the only part of Sulawesi where crested black macaques can be found, the dense human population has directly affected forest structure in lowland areas. Conversion of forest for subsistence and commercial agriculture, collection of forest products, road systems, and extraction of timber and minerals have severely degraded and fragmented the forests on which crested black macaques rely (Bynum et al. 1999). Cloves, coconut, and coffee plantations for commercial harvest dominate northern Sulawesi and replace primary forest with monocultures that are virtually useless to crested black macaques. Even subsistence gardens at high enough densities threaten these monkeys; the increasing human population needs increasing land to grow crops and as individual gardens are cleared, forests become more fragmented (Bynum et al. 1999). The collection of forest products in nature reserves includes wood, rattan (a multi-purpose fiber) and palm leaves. In forests bordered by areas of high human population density, the collection of these products can seriously degrade primary forest quality (O'Brien & Kinnaird 1996; Rosenbaum et al. 1998b). The extensive network of roads being built in this region to accommodate the growing human population only serves to exacerbate the problem. As areas of pristine forest are cleared and roads are cut through tracts of forest, people have easier access to previously untouched resources. Though the levels of deforestation are lower than other areas of Indonesia because access to higher levels is difficult due to the steep volcanic slopes, the areas where these macaques are found are quickly being destroyed (Bynum et al. 1999).

Protected areas on Sulawesi include Tangkoko Batuangus-Dua Sudara, Gunung Ambang, and Gunung Manembonembo Nature Reserves as well as Bunaken Marine National Park. The largest and densest population of crested black macaques occurs at Tangkoko and while they are found in other protected areas, densities are much lower. There are also a number of protected forests, but these are under heavy resource pressures and are not thought to contain crested black macaques (Bynum et al. 1999). Protected areas on Sulawesi can be considered "paper parks," in which resource use within the parks is prohibited by legislation, but no structured system of stopping resource extraction exists (Bynum et al. 1999). There is little doubt that the only viable population of crested black macaques on Sulawesi exists in Tangkoko because areas outside this reserve, even in other reserves, are severely compromised (Rosenbaum et al. 1998b).

Potential Solutions

Enforcement of laws prohibiting agriculture and extraction of resources from protected areas must be implemented immediately if crested black macaques are to be protected in the most important parts of their range (Bynum et al. 1999). Human population densities are only going to increase in the future, and unless effective enforcement of protected area status is activated, the growing human population will continue to destroy crested black macaque habitat. Education programs about the unique nature of crested black macaques for people surrounding reserves as well as programs allowing only limited extraction of forest products may decrease pressure on parks (Bynum et al. 1999). A more radical approach is confiscation of forest products by government officials and subsequent prosecution of violators. Another approach might include ecotourism, which gives a different economic value to forest products for local people and in some instances, may encourage protection by local people. If people glean profits from having undamaged parks which tourists pay to enjoy, there may be an incentive to reduce resource consumption and increase protection of the habitat (Kinnaird pers. comm.).

Reducing mechanized commercial logging may also have an impact on sustaining habitat for the crested black macaque. Rather than using machines to clear-cut areas, which is exceptionally destructive to wide tracts of land, the business of logging for domestic use could focus on more sustainable techniques such as selective logging. Convincing logging companies to do this may be difficult, but because the logs extracted are sold primarily within Indonesia, not exported, community-based efforts focusing on the endemism of crested black macaques could turn consumer attitude toward supporting sustainable logging (Rosenbaum et al. 1998b). That is, Indonesian buyers of timber have more stake in the sustainable and responsible harvest of logs than do foreign buyers who have no connection to the native flora and fauna at risk from mechanized logging.

Threat: Harvesting (hunting/gathering)

Hunting of crested black macaques is an even more severe threat to their survival than habitat destruction (Lee 1995; Rosenbaum et al. 1998b; Bynum et al. 1999; Kinnaird pers. comm.). Among Christians on Sulawesi, monkey meat is a traditional food and a delicacy for special occasions including Christmas dinner and other celebrations (Rosenbaum et al. 1998b). Among Indonesian Muslims, monkeys are not eaten because of religious prohibition, but even in areas where the human population is predominantly Muslim, hunting is still a problem. In these areas, conflicts with farmers lead to killing or trapping crested black macaques and selling them as pets (Rosenbaum et al. 1998b; Bynum et al. 1999).

Because of the social structure of crested black macaques, the serious potential to eradicate large numbers in a small period of time is great. It is easy and inexpensive for hunters to capture several macaques at a time because they only have to find one group to have access to dozens of animals. Additionally, because it is a delicacy, monkey meat is in demand throughout the year and hunters exploit the market demand year-round (Lee 1995). Indonesian law prohibits hunting in protected areas, but there is essentially no protection afforded to macaques because reserve personnel are unable to patrol all areas under their care. Furthermore, there is evidence that only in the most central part of Tangkoko are crested black macaques protected from poachers; in all other areas of the reserve and other reserves in Sulawesi, hunters are free to track and kill any animals (Bynum et al. 1999).

Potential Solutions

Better enforcement and education programs focused on changing the traditional and cultural attitudes of Christians in Sulawesi is necessary to decrease hunting pressure on crested black macaques (Bynum et al. 1999). In the decade from 1990 to 2000, only one prosecution for trade of protected macaques occurred. The resulting actions were only taken because of the publicity engendered by a researcher at Tangkoko who caught two men with 11 dead macaques and reported them to the local police. After two months of inaction by the police, the researcher created publicity in local newspapers and magazines. After four more months, the men were finally tried and sentenced. They spent six months in prison (Clayton & Milner-Gulland 2000). Both men that were prosecuted claimed to be unaware of the prohibitions against hunting crested black macaques. While it is difficult to surmise if this was the truth, certainly education programs could ensure that local people know and understand Indonesian law and the potential punishment for hunting protected species. Clearly enforcement is an issue, given that this single case in a decade was only brought before the court because of the action of one researcher. Even if enforcement was impossible throughout the year, given that monkey meat is known to be in especially high demand around Christmas, local officials could spend more time during this part of the year patrolling for and prosecuting poachers (Clayton & Milner-Gulland 2000). Another potential solution is to replace hunting with another income-generating activity for hunters. On average, a hunter receives only US$1.36 for each macaque sold at market; replacing this income with another more sustainable source of money could potentially decrease the incentive to hunt macaques (Clayton & Milner-Gulland 2000).

Threat: Persecution

Crested black macaques come into contact with humans when the macaques raid crops adjacent to areas of forest. They are considered agricultural pests because in large groups, they can strip a garden of all harvestable fruit in one visit and can destroy the potential for future growth. Understandably, tolerance for this crop-raiding behavior is low and local people often set traps and snares on the borders of their gardens to catch offending crested black macaques (Rosenbaum et al. 1998b; Bynum et al. 1999). As human populations grow and the abundance of subsistence gardens increases, the destruction of primary forest fruit resources will also increase and this problem is likely to worsen and affect even more macaques (Bynum et al. 1999).

Potential Solutions

There are known crops that are not palatable to crested black macaques, including cloves, rice, and pepper. Strategically planting these crops at the border of gardens or in areas dense in subsistence agricultural production could decrease crop damage done by macaques and reduce persecution (Bynum et al. 1999). Furthermore, if this planting of deterrent crops is coupled with community education programs, tolerance of crested black macaques may increase and fewer traps and snares will be set.

Threat: Natural Disasters

Climate change has played a significant role in the loss of crested black macaques and could have significant effects in the future as population size dwindles. Widespread drought following the El Niño/Southern Oscillation of 1997-98 led to the largest fire disaster ever observed and resulted in the burning of millions of acres in this region of Southeast Asia. Though normally not vulnerable to fires even during drought, tropical forests that are severely logged are at high risk for destruction by wildfires (Siegert et al. 2001). The use of fire is widely employed as a tool to clear land for commercial and subsistence agriculture as well as hunting in some areas of Indonesia. During periods of severe drought brought on by El Niño, the logged forests were particularly sensitive to fire activity and many fires started by local people resulted in uncontrollable forest fires that burned millions of acres and undoubtedly killed forest-dwelling animals including crested black macaques (Anonymous 1997; Siegert et al. 2001).

Potential Solutions

Though there is no solution to drought or its underlying causes, some important management techniques can be implemented to decrease the likelihood of another El Niño event decimating the crested black macaque population. Decreasing logging activity in primary forests is necessary and would decrease the chance of fire affecting the forests. Furthermore, education and giving incentives to corporations and local people to change their land clearing techniques would reduce the opportunity for fires to get out of control.

Threat: Changes in Native Species Dynamics

Though their ranges do not overlap, the ranges of crested black macaques and another species, M. nigrescens border each other. Examinations of monkeys coming from this border region led to some speculation that there was a low level of hybridization among these species (Watanabe & Matsumura 1991). No genetic tests were conducted and as this assertion was based on the physical characteristics of only a few individuals and it is unlikely that these specimens were hybrids (Groves 2001). Furthermore, discrimination tests conducted on all seven species of macaques (Macaca) on Sulawesi were conducted in captivity and showed that each species had a definite, and strong, response to, and visual preference for, members of its own species, further decreasing the likelihood that hybridization affects crested black macaques in the wild (Fujita & Watanabe 1997).

Threat: Intrinsic Factors

There is no published data on the genetic diversity of wild crested black macaques to evaluate if they are threatened by genetic drift or inbreeding depression. Presumably because populations outside of Tangkoko are isolated, gene flow is minimized and there is a potential for inbreeding within groups where males cannot disperse because of habitat restrictions.

Threat: Human Disturbance

Ecotourism can be a way to integrate the goals of economic development with wildlife conservation, especially when involving charismatic species like the crested black macaque. When managed improperly, though, there can be negative effects on both wildlife and local communities as tourists disturb natural behaviors and exploit local people (Kinnaird & O'Brien 1996). In Tangkoko, the presence of large numbers of tourists has a negative effect on crested black macaque groups; they consistently run in fear, vocalize, and flee to the trees in the presence of more than five tourists (Kinnaird & O'Brien 1996).

Potential Solutions

Currently, there are no requirements for exploring Tangkoko, such as being accompanied by a trained guide, a factor that could seriously contribute to the stressful responses of crested black macaques to tourists. If groups of only a few individuals approached crested black macaques and were walking and talking loudly, the response was to flee (Kinnaird & O'Brien 1996). Requiring that a trained guide accompany tourists would decrease the chances of inappropriate behavior by visitors and decrease the disturbance of the monkeys. This would also create job opportunities for local people most familiar with the forest, and could even create an alternate income generating opportunity for hunters, who are skilled at tracking macaque groups. Carefully implemented and conscientious ecotourism operations could both increase revenues for local people and protect the crested black macaques in Tangkoko. Before this can occur, though, a change in the status of the reserve must be made, as tourism is currently illegal in Tangkoko. With the upgrade of the reserve to a park, the government would be able to increase gate fees, require guides, and initiate training to prepare for structured tours and these activities could increase the local economy and protection for crested black macaques (Kinnaird pers. comm.).





Content last modified: February 2, 2006

Written by Kristina Cawthon Lang. Reviewed by Margaret Kinnaird.

Cite this page as:
Cawthon Lang KA. 2006 February 2. Primate Factsheets: Crested black macaque (Macaca nigra) Conservation . <>. Accessed 2019 December 13.