Proboscis Monkeys in captivity

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International Primate Protection League
Vol 27 No 1 April 1999


Proboscis monkeys (known in Indonesia as “bekantan”) are remarkable animals found only on the island of Borneo. The species is highly endangered – probably more so than the better known orangutan.
The Indonesian part of Borneo is known as Kalimantan. In 1998 Borneo was severely impacted by forest fires resulting from uncontrolled logging, clearing of land for conversion to oil palm and rice plantations and burning by small farmers. Many wild animals died in the disaster. The list of the world’s endangered species will certainly grow longer when the damage from the fires is fully assessed.

Now an effort is being made to export Proboscis Monkeys from Indonesia. Singapore Zoo already obtained five animals. Toronto Zoo in Canada is planning to import up to ten animals. US and European zoos are said to be interested in exhibiting the species.

Proboscis Monkeys live along Borneo’s rivers. For many visitors, one of the most memorable experiences is the sight of them crashing through the trees by day and to see the profiles of them sleeping peacefully in the tree-tops along the river-banks.

Proboscis monkeys in captivity

Unfortunately, the proboscis monkey’s long nose has led to the species being sought after by zoos despite its fragility. Prior to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, some animals reached Western zoos, where they fared poorly. According to data from the 1976 and 1998 issues of the International Zoo Yearbook:

* In 1975 Basle Zoo, Switzerland, had 3 proboscis monkeys. In 1997 it reported none.
* In 1975, Berlin Zoo, Germany, reported 6 proboscis. In 1997 it reported none.
* In 1975 Cologne Zoo, Germany, reported 2 proboscis. In 1997 it reported none.

* In 1975 Colorado, USA, reported 1 proboscis. In 1997 it reported none.
* In 1975 Dallas Zoo, USA, reported 5 proboscis. In 1997 it reported none.
* In 1975 Frankfurt Zoo, Germany, reported 2 proboscis. In 1997 it reported none.
* In 1975 Milwaukee, USA, reported 2 proboscis. In 1997 it reported none.
* In 1975 San Diego Zoo, USA, reported 3 proboscis. In 1997 it reported none.
* In 1975 Stuttgart Zoo, Germany, reported 4 proboscis. In 1997 it reported none.
* In 1997 Twycross Zoo, England, reported 4 proboscis. In 1997, it reported none.
* In 1975 the Bronx Zoo, USA, reported 8 proboscis, seven of them born at the zoo. Sadly, most are now dead.

On a visit to the zoo on 14 March 1999, IPPL Chairwoman Shirley McGreal saw only two proboscis monkeys, one of whom looked sick and was vomiting.

The Proboscis monkeys of Kaget Island

Kaget Island is located in the Barito River delta. It has long been home to a thriving colony of Proboscis Monkeys. Visitors to the town of Banjarmasin would take a “klotok” riverboat to view the monkeys. Now there are very few of them left.

In 1976 the Government of Indonesia declared Pulau Klaget a fully protected Nature Reserve. The “bekantan” was declared the official animal of South Kalimantan province. In the past few years trees on the island have been destroyed to clear land for farming. As a result the monkeys allegedly became “over-crowded” and large numbers of them were caught with the approval of the reserve managers.

About 130 were released on the nearby islands of Burung, Tempurung and Bakut, where unfortunately they did not have protected status – not that it had helped them much on Kaget. Other monkeys were sent to zoos, especially Surabaya Zoo on the island of Java.

IPPL has received a report that AT LEAST 50 of the newly-caught monkeys died at the zoo. Proboscis Monkeys are known to be difficult to keep alive in captivity because of their specialized diets and the stress of captive living. Many leaf monkeys also fare badly in captivity.