By Kasun Warakapitiya Sri Lanka wants to verify details of a Chinese ‘animal breeding’ company which had sought to obtain 100,000 toque macaques reportedly for zoos in China. The Chinese Embassy in Sri Lanka has been asked to provide complete details of the company, the secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Gunadasa Samarasinghe told the [...]


China asked to share details of company seeking monkeys from SL


By Kasun Warakapitiya

Sri Lanka wants to verify details of a Chinese ‘animal breeding’ company which had sought to obtain 100,000 toque macaques reportedly for zoos in China.

The Chinese Embassy in Sri Lanka has been asked to provide complete details of the company, the secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Gunadasa Samarasinghe told the Sunday Times.

Environmentalists have severely criticised the unsolicited proposal for endemic monkeys of Sri Lanka.

Agriculture Minister Mahinda Amaraweera has presided over three meetings with the company representatives and ministry officials to see if it is possible to send monkeys to China.

Tourists taking photos with a toque macaque at Ravana Ella last week. Pic by Indika Handuwala

The Chinese Embassy in Sri Lanka has denied any knowledge of a request from the Chinese state to Sri Lanka (see box 1).

Sri Lanka’s Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS)  claimed that it gathered information that the ‘Zhejiang Wuyu Animal Breeding Co., Limited’, had been registered as a new company in 2021, with a small capital.

WNPS said that a letter from the company to the Department of Agriculture, which was made public, is suspicious, because it lacks a signature and has no contact person information. The company stamp is upside down. It appeared to be the work of a fraudster, or of a person who does not read Chinese.

The society said it had been
told the company is not yet
fully operational.

The Minister of Agriculture Mahinda Amaraweera has presided over three meetings.

Mr Amaraweera said the chairman of the Coconut Development Authority, Prof Roshan Perera, arranged company representatives to attend the meeting. He confirmed that meetings were held after the Chinese company sent a letter to the National Food Promotion Board, which is under the Ministry of Agriculture.

He said that next week, the ministry plans to appoint a committee of experts, stakeholders including officials of the Wildlife Ministry, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry Department, environmentalists, and farmers, to consider the proposal.

However, Prof Perera denied
he was involved with the
Chinese company.

He explained that he only requested information from the Ministry of Agriculture, the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute (HARTI), and the Coconut Research Institute report on the damage caused to coconut cultivation by macaques and giant squirrels. According to the report, about 400 million coconuts are damaged by both species, he said.

National Food Promotion Board chairman Palinda Sagara, admits that the Chinese company ‘Zhejiang Wuyu Animal Breeding Co., Limited,’ contacted him via letter dated March, 10, 2023 to obtain a large quantity of monkeys for exhibition purposes.

He said he submitted the letter to the Ministry of Agriculture. Three rounds of discussions were held with the Chinese company’s representatives. The company had wanted 100,000 monkeys and said it would take 500 animals initially.

He claimed that the company directly made a request and there was no local agent involved in the matter. He said the company was involved in green cabbage exports and they had been working in Sri Lanka for 12 years.

Mr Sagara said the practicality and legality would be reviewed. Reports on crop damage would be considered by a committee to be appointed to see if monkeys can be sent to China. Further action will be based on their recommendations.

Mr Sagara said he is involved in food promotion and because food crops are damaged by macaques, he has authority on the matter and he can be approached by the Chinese company.

A senior official who attended one of three meetings, and who did not wanted to be named, said
the legality of exporting monkeys was discussed.

The official added that at the meeting it was revealed that zoological gardens can exchange only captive bred animals for scientific purposes according to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

He said zoos would only obtain animals according to available space and other facilities and a request for such a high number of animals was unusual. Officials have agreed to study the legality of exporting monkeys.

The Ministry of Agriculture consulted stakeholders on December 29, 2022 about managing crop damage by wild animals.

Prof Buddhi Marambe who moderated the meetings, said that HARTI published a report, “Conflict Between Farmers and Wildlife” based on the consultation and handed it to the Agriculture Minister in March.

“All stakeholders came to an understanding that the population of wild animals which damages crops needs to be controlled with scientific methods and had not mentioned the export of animals,’’ he said.

He said the report had mentioned sterilisation by non-invasive methods such as use of hormones, culling, as well as educating people to stop feeding of animals and ending the dumping of garbage that attracts creatures.

Suspicions surround monkey business

Environmentalists and researchers are concerned about the proposal to ship a large number of toque macaques (macaca sinica) to China.

This is impractical, they say, and are also suspicious that such a large number of animals are sought for Chinese zoos.

Leading Primatologist as well as President of the Primatological Society of Sri Lanka (PSSL), Dr Jinie Dela said this was a very ill advised move.

Prof Sampath Seneviratne

She explained that it was not only a very negative one in the environmental perspective, but it also had a negative impact on the country’s economic development which the government was doing its upmost to boost.

The toque macaque is an endemic primate, found nowhere else in the world, and listed as Endangered at the global level by IUCN in its International Red List of threatened species. Sri Lanka has accepted this designation as the Ministry dealing with Environment is a member of IUCN. The Ministry is also engaged in preparing National Red Lists based on the IUCN Criteria. The recent Red Listing exercise found the toque macaque to be threatened (Vulnerable) even in Sri Lanka.

Prof Wolfgang Dittus. Pix M.A.Pushpakumara

Macaques live in troops with their own hierarchy and therefore animals from separate troops cannot be put together in close confinement, they would fight and kill each other. As these groups have a strong dominance hierarchy, close confinement of all the animals even in a group will also have this effect. There would be massive fatalities under inhumane conditions which would not only affect the monkeys, it would give a very bad impression of Sri Lanka.

“Further we are trying hard to promote a Green Economy in the country, and there are strong moves to build up and re-brand nature based tourism to strengthen the Sri Lankan Economy by promoting our endemics including monkeys (as other countries are doing). This kind of ill-advised action is definitely counterproductive to such positive initiatives the government is taking,”  she said.

Reputed Primatologist Prof. Wolfgang Dittus, who lives in Sri Lanka, said human activity has increased the conflict with macaques.

He said the density of macaques is low in the wild, but high in locations where people live.

Prof Dittus said garbage disposal and feeding of monkeys are key reasons for the conflict. People should prevent monkeys from having access to human food.

If monkeys have access to a permanent source of water and easy access to food, their numbers increase, he said.

Wildlife and Nature Protection Society member and professor in Zoology at the University of Colombo, Sampath Seneviratne is also concerned about the idea. The toque macaque is endemic and not exposed to diseases. So, there is a demand for them in the biomedical world, not just in legal biomedical testing, but also underground laboratories, he said.

“Companies go to places where wildlife laws are weak, where there are no wildlife laws, or where there is economic turmoil, so they can get biological resources which cannot be taken through a formal legal process.’’


 China ‘sees no evil, hears no evil, speaks no evil’Faced with blowback in Sri Lanka and negative worldwide publicity arising from a controversial attempt by a Chinese company to obtain 100,000 endemic toque macaques, the Chinese Embassy in Sri Lanka sought to distance any state authority from involvement, while also countering what it deemed ‘disinformation’.

It also flagged as ‘suspicious’ a letter on social media purportedly from an ‘animal breeding’ company addressed to ‘national food promotion board’. The embassy said in a tweet: “The company stamp in this suspicious letter is a reversed one.’’

In a separate tweet, the embassy said it “has noticed recent disinformation on local and foreign media about Sri Lanka to export “100 thousands” of “endangered” toque macaque monkeys to a Chinese private company for “experimental purpose”, as well as detailed clarifications by the Minister of Agriculture and the Cabinet Spokesperson of Sri Lanka thereafter’’.

The embassy said it also checked with relevant authorities in Beijing. “The Chinese National Forestry and Grassland Administration, the main government department supervising and managing the import and export of wild animals and plants, clearly clarified that it is not aware of the request and has not received such an application from any side. The embassy would like to further stress that as a contracting party of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), China has already adopted its Wildlife Protection Law in 1988 with several amendments afterwards.’’

Farmers suggest population control

Macaques are causing crop losses and also damaging houses, and although the Government has been asked to take measures to control their population, nothing has been done, farmers say.

“We don’t need to ship monkeys to China, we need a scientific and practical solution,” said Farmer Association leader S.K.G Asoka Karunasena. About 75% of the coconut harvest in Polonnaruwa is destroyed by macaques and langurs, he said.

The Medirigiriya-Maduluwawe Farmers Association president Aruna Nandasiri said macaques destroy vegetables and fruit. His own guava trees can’t be protected, he said. Monkeys break in to homes from the roof and grab rice and bread.

He said farmers are not interested in monkey export. Sterilisation and relocation should be considered, instead.


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