CITES: Appendix II
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IUCN Red List: M. mulatta: LC
(What is Red List?)
Key: LC = Least concern
(Click on species name to see IUCN Red List entry, including detailed status assessment information.)
The Indian population of rhesus macaques was massively impacted by the widespread
export for use in biomedical research in the mid-20 th century. By the time
their international export began to be regulated in 1977, the Indian population
was reduced by 90% (Malik 1992). Countries that had demanded these monkeys
for use in research, including the United States, established self-sustaining
breeding colonies and curbed the demand for wild-born animals resulting in
a rebound in the Indian population (Southwick & Siddiqi 2001). In China,
rhesus macaques are widespread and thriving (Zhang 1998).
CONSERVATION THREATS & POTENTIAL SOLUTIONS
Threat: Human-Induced Habitat Loss and Degradation
Problems of habitat destruction do not seem to affect rhesus macaques like other
primates; they are well adapted to life near humans and can thrive in highly
disturbed environments. Because of the cessation of export and the rhesus
macaque's adaptability to human-disturbed environments, the Indian population is
increasing (Rao 2003). This increase may not necessarily be positive because in
areas where rhesus macaques are in contact with humans they are menaces:
threatening or biting children and the elderly, stealing food from people,
raiding crops and damaging property leading to decreased tolerance and
persecution of rhesus macaques in some areas (Imam et al. 2002; Wolfe 2002; Rao
2003). This is one rare case where the destruction of habitat and replacement
with agricultural land has led to an increase in the number of primates, but at
a serious social cost. These problems will only be exacerbated if habitat
destruction does not stop and will likely force government control measures,
like trapping and relocation, to decrease the population for the health and
safety of humans in India (Imam et al. 2002; Rao 2003). In Bangladesh, forest
dwelling rhesus macaques are threatened because of cattle grazing, illicit
timber and fuelwood harvesting, and settlement pressure. The forests in which
they are found are not continuous or undisturbed (Sazedul Islam & Zahirul
The root cause of this conflict between humans and rhesus macaques is the
eradication of natural habitat, forcing monkeys into proximity with humans.
Though they excel in human-disturbed environments, rhesus macaques living
in forested areas are usually healthier, eating a better diet, and in overall
better condition than urban macaques (Lindburg 1971). Restoration of their
natural habitat in densely populated areas may decrease conflict, but given
that they will likely move into areas where humans make food readily available,
this may not be a permanent solution. In the long term, management will be
necessary to conserve healthy populations of rhesus macaques and prevent persecution by humans from being a threat to their survival (Muroyama & Eudey 2004).
Translocation of large numbers of monkeys may be one management option to remove
rhesus macaques dependent on human sources of food. In one area of significant
human-rhesus macaque conflict, about 600 macaques were captured and successfully
relocated to forested areas nearby (Imam et al. 2002).
In countries like Bangladesh, where forest loss is occurring at a rapid rate,
some measures that may influence the survival of rhesus macaques in forest
settings include replanting deforested areas, involving local people in conservation
activities such as tree planting and providing income through these activities,
and establishing plantations specifically for fuelwood and timber needs that
can be sustainably harvested (Sazedul Islam & Zahirul Islam 2001).
Threat: Harvesting (hunting/gathering)
Rhesus macaques were once seriously threatened by the rate of capture and
export for use in biomedical research. In the 1960s, often 50,000 juvenile
rhesus macaques were trapped and shipped from India per year, crippling the
population growth of rhesus in India (Southwick & Siddiqi 2001). In 1978,
a total ban on rhesus export was the first step in reestablishing the population,
and the numbers in India have more than doubled since the 1970s (Southwick & Siddiqi
2001). There are still some rhesus macaques trapped and used for reasearch
within India, but the effect of the population is negligible compared to previous
levels of usage (Southwick & Siddiqi 1994). Chinese rhesus macaques are
not frequently subject to harvesting for biomedical research within China because of the 23 established primate captive breeding facilities in that country (Fan & Song 2003).
In orthodox Hindu tradition, monkeys are sacred animals to be revered and
protected, but as humans and animals begin to compete for similar resources
or monkeys become nuisances, causing not only property damage, but also injury
to humans, the traditional bond is degraded (Imam et al. 2002; Wolfe 2002).
In some areas of India, rhesus macaques are subjected to stoning, trapping,
and shooting because they are such pervasive, destructive pests. Over 95% of
the local people in one region of India felt harassed by the rhesus macaques
either because of bites, stealing of household items, or other reasons (Imam
et al. 2002). Though their populations continue to expand, the deterioration
of traditional beliefs that leads to their persecution could have an effect
on rhesus macaque conservation in the future. If the conservation ethic connected
to deifying rhesus macaques is lost, it will be difficult to rekindle in the
future if the population stops growing or decreases (Imam et al. 2002).
Mitigating human-rhesus conflict is necessary to prevent the change in attitudes
towards rhesus macaques that could lead to further persecution and population
decline. Translocating particularly problematic rhesus monkeys or entire groups
has been successful, but is not a widespread option because there simply are
not enough suitable forest patches in which large numbers of rhesus can live
(Imam et al. 2002). Perhaps innovative engineering could lead to monkey-proof
containers in which people can store household items and food and prevent local
rhesus from raiding their kitchens. Deterrent fencing or other protective measures
could also be established around gardens and agricultural crops to prevent
rhesus macaques from crop raiding.
On the other hand, Bercovitch and Berman (1993) found that on Cayo Santiago,
mothers who had sons had a delay in the next reproduction, and therefore there is a
higher cost in producing males, not females.
Decreasing opportunities for conflict between local humans and rhesus macaques
will lead to maintained tolerance of these monkeys that have nowhere to retreat
from human encroachment.
LINKS TO MORE ABOUT CONSERVATION
ORGANIZATIONS INVOLVED IN Macaca mulatta CONSERVATION
Content last modified: July 20, 2005
Written by Kristina Cawthon Lang. Reviewed by Fred Bercovitch.
Cite this page as:
Cawthon Lang KA. 2005 July 20. Primate Factsheets: Rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta) Conservation . <http://pin.primate.wisc.edu/factsheets/entry/rhesus_macaque/cons>. Accessed 2015 February 1.