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Wednesday, September 29, 1999 Published at 17:58 GMT 18:58 UK


Sci/Tech

Shock tactics to tackle cheeky monkeys

The Japanese macaques face "shocking" punishment

Cheeky monkeys that attack tourists in a Japanese national park and raid local farms are in for a big shock.

Local officials want to give them electric shocks to reinstill a fear of people among the animals, reports New Scientist magazine.

But one of the Japan's leading primatologists has warned that the plan may be seriously flawed.

The wild monkeys live in the Nikko National Park, northeast of Tokyo, a popular tourist spot.

There has been an increasing number of incidents where wild monkeys have literally bitten the hands of the tourists who feed them. The monkeys also rampage across fields of nearby farms and eat crops.

No shooting

Shooting the monkeys was banned two years ago. So now local officials propose a two-hour session of shock treatment for any monkeys that they catch. They are then released back into the wild, where the authorities also intend to frighten them with fireworks.

A spokesman for the Tochigi prefectural government says that an expert from Utsunomiya University has been consulted on the proposed measures. But the spokesman was unable to give details, nor could he say exactly how many volts would be used.

According to the Yomiuri newspaper, the director of the prefectural government's forestry office, Masaharu Fukuda, says the plan is the best possible way to drive the animals back to the mountains without shooting them.

But he admits, "I do feel a little sorry for the monkeys."

Shock result

However, Tetsuro Matsuzawa, a psychologist at Kyoto University's Primate Research Institute, warns that the new policy is unlikely to be effective and could end up deeply traumatising the monkeys. "Whether this is legal or ethical is another matter," he says.

Dr Matsuzawa points out that to assess the effectiveness of the measures, the officials need a control group which is not given shocks. "Then you can release both groups into the wild to see if one has a greater aversion towards humans."

He has also developed his own method of deterring the marauding monkeys.

The monkeys are injected with drugs so they feel slightly nauseous and then given food that they often steal from farms, such as apples. The monkeys begin to feel sick after their meal and learn to associate the feeling with what they have eaten.

"We were partially successful in making them averse to these foods," Dr Matsuzawa reports.





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