The monkey business of picking coconuts: The modern ethical issue of ‘monkey slavery’

Seemingly out of nowhere the people are going bananas over “monkey slavery.” From the usual suspects, like PETA, to more unexpected individuals, like Boris Johnson’s fiancee Carrie Symonds, people are up in arms over this purported exploitation of a wild animal.

Since biblical times, animals have been working alongside people – oxen pulling plows and wagons, dogs herding cattle and sheep, and other dogs used for protection or for tracking people and drugs.

Ancient Egyptians once used monkeys to pick tree nuts and today, Thailand uses monkeys to pick coconuts and most coconuts . According to NPR, Thailand’s practice of using pigtailed macaques to pick coconuts dates back over 400 years. Other countries, such as Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and India have also relied on monkeys.

Why use monkey labor?

When it comes to coconuts, there are two reasons people use monkeys: Safety and Quantity Collected.

Coconuts kill 600 people every year – the same number of people killed in the U.S. by cold weather each year. Collecting coconuts for humans is dangerous because humans use a long pole with a knife at the end to reach up to 80′ in the trees. The person must stand directly under the coconuts they are attempting to collect. Further, 6-12 coconuts can fall at one time. Therefore, it is far safer for monkeys to collect coconuts, because they climb up the trees and don’t have the coconuts fall towards them.

Aside from safety concerns, the monkeys are far more efficient than people at collecting coconuts. The average person can collect 80 coconuts per day. A male monkey can collect around 1,600 coconuts per day and a female monkey can collect 600. Clearly the monkeys are the far more efficient method.

Ethical Debate

This modern ethical debate began back in 2015 when “Animal Place,” a farm sanctuary that advocates for a vegan diet, stated that monkey labor in Thailand had been “exploited.” The issue is based around videos online that depict animals chained and forced to work. The main issue is the taking of a wild animal and using it for work.

Now, another issue is that nearly 99 percent of Thai coconuts are picked by monkeys. According to “monkey schools” that train monkeys to pick coconuts in Thailand, the monkeys are not exposed to shouting or punishing, and learn in a relaxed environment. After a monkey picks coconuts from a tree, the monkey hugs the owner, who checks the monkey for red ants and massages the monkey. The monkeys are kept as pets by the family before and after work.

Young monkeys are trained and kept leashed . That way the monkeys grow closer to the handlers and their family. The handlers care for the monkeys needs, including food, water, grooming, and any other need. Further, these monkeys ride to the coconut farms on motorcycles, bikes, or carts with the handlers.

Many took issue with the monkeys appearing to be “in chains.” Those “chains” on the monkeys serve multiple purposes including, but not limited to guiding the monkeys up the trees and preventing escape. The monkey training schools reported to NPR that they had never heard of any monkey abuse occurring. While the school has a vested interest in the “monkey slavery” continuing, logically, it is the same as using a work horse. A farmer would not abuse the work horse pulling the plow, because the horse is vital to the farmer’s operation and putting food on his table. Here, more than with the workhorse, the farmer using monkeys is protected from the danger of the falling coconuts and receives increased production from the monkey’s collecting coconuts.

Where do you stand on “monkey slavery”? Is it abusing a wild animal for commercial gain, or is it man collaborating with an animal to accomplish a goal?

Finally, what is the alternative to “monkey slavery”? Are we more comfortable with people risking their lives to collect coconuts or would we prefer children climbing the trees to collect the coconuts?

Please let me know in the comments below!

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