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Rhesus macaque
Macaca mulatta


CITES: Appendix II (What is CITES?)
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).


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 Islam 2001).

Potential Solutions

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).

Threat: Persecution

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).

Potential Solutions

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.





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 . <>. Accessed 2014 April 18.