Thailand is home to some of the most spectacular attractions and festivals, including the Monkey Festival in Lopburi. The said annual festival involves giving vegetables and fruits to the local monkey population. Visitors may feel like they have stepped into the film Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Locals believe that monkeys bring good luck to people, which is why the animals are treated with high respect in the city but the Covid-19 pandemic has left Thailand’s tour guides without work, hotels empty, and markets unusually quiet. The wildlife may have also noticed the lack of visitors. This means less food for groups of wild monkeys in the country.
Mass monkey sterilization in Thailand
According to Reuters, vets in the country have conducted mass monkey sterilization as the Covid-19 pandemic left them hungry. Consequently, they became aggressive and had to wrestle for food from residents, particularly in Lopburi. There are about 2,000 monkeys in the province and it has drawn tourists from around the world. Before the pandemic hit the province, tourists typically fed the macaques population and posed with them for pictures.
Hungry macaques invading homes and buildings for food
Since the country closed its borders on April 4 to lessen the risk of Covid-19 transmission, the monkeys found it difficult to adapt to the new normal. Government veterinarian Supakarn Kaewchot said that the monkeys are not so used to having tourists feed them and Lopburi offers no space where they can fend for themselves. She added that there are no tourists in the province, so monkeys have become more aggressive. To survive, they have to fight humans for food. They are forcing residents to flee their homes and are also invading the buildings.
Compared to monkeys in the wild, city macaques do not need to hunt for food. This gives them more energy and time to cause trouble and reproduce, the government veterinarian added. This is the reason why the authorities have placed big cages in the city with fruits in them to lure the monkeys and sterilized them. Once inside the cages, the monkeys will then be transferred to an operating table, where they will be sedated and a portion of their body shaved. A reference number will then be tattooed under their arms. They also have permanent ink on their chin so that they can be recognized in the future. Then, they will be photographed and weighted before undergoing the sterilization procedure.
The sleeping monkeys are laid on their backs under a green cloth so vets can perform a tubal ligation operation or vasectomy. It takes only one night for the monkeys to recover and then they will be brought back to their tribes. Each troop usually has at least 500 members, said Lopburi Monkey Foundation’s Manad Vimuktipune.
Sterilization in monkeys
The government said that they are planning to sterilize about 500 monkeys in the next two months. Kaewchot said that they are not doing this on the wild monkeys but only those in the city. The purpose of the sterilization is to slow down the rate of their urban growth and not to harm them. The country has already sterilized hundreds of monkeys.
Footage shows hungry monkeys brawling over food in the street in Lopburi in March. At first, they were seen running independently but they soon chased a single monkey that got hold of a banana. The noise of their cries increased and they were seen jumping onto each other as they fought for food.
In a separate report by the Daily Mail, onlooker Sasaluk Rattanachai shared a scene from outside the shop where she works. She told the daily that the animals looked more like wild dogs than monkeys as they went crazy over a single piece of food. “I’ve never seen them this aggressive,” she said. She believes that the monkeys were “very, very hungry” as there are not too many tourists in the country because of the pandemic.
Tourism in Thailand
While Thailand enjoyed an increase of tourists from 35.35 million in 2017 to 39.80 million in 2019, the country experienced some dramatic events in the year 2020 because of the emergence of coronavirus. Covid-19 started in Wuhan, China, and spread rapidly around the world. The tourism sector of Thailand suffered a lot, just like other tourism sectors around the world. Beginning in February 2020, the number of tourists visiting Thailand dwindled also because other countries prevented their citizens from traveling internationally. Thailand has also not accepted international flights landing at its airports.
In the first quarter of 2020, tourist arrivals in Thailand dropped to 6,691 compared to 10,795 million in the first quarter of 2019. That is equivalent to a -38.01% drop in tourist arrivals. In March 2019, there were 3,473,088 who arrived in Thailand but there were only 819,429 tourists who visited the country in March 2020. This also means fewer tourists in the following months because inbound flights were also disallowed.
Statistics on international tourists arriving in Thailand as of March 2020
As of March 2020, most international tourists that visited Thailand come from China (40.98%), India (6.60%), Russia (5.77%), Japan (4.28%), Vietnam (5.83%), Korea (5.29%), Taiwan (2.90%), Germany (2.45%), Indonesia (3.02%), UK (0.96%), France (2.30%), USA (2.39%), Hong Kong (0.56%), Poland (1.13%), and Ukraine (0.26%), according to the Association of Thai Travel Agents.
Meanwhile, real-time world statistics provider Worldometer shared that Thailand recorded 3,157 coronavirus cases as of June 24. The majority (98%) of these patients had already recovered or were discharged while 2% died. The country hit its highest Covid-19 active case on April 9 with 1,454 people infected.
Covid-19 has dealt a severe blow to the tourism industry of Thailand. The sector is supposed to be crucial to the country’s economy. The sharp dip in tourism has also left monkeys starving and resulted in a monkey gang battle. Authorities and locals can help each other so that there will be enough food for the monkeys to go around while the tourism industry gradually recovers from the coronavirus lockdowns. Other countries have also shifted to develop tourism recovery measures, including lifting travel restrictions, rethinking the sector for the future, and restoring traveler confidence.