PETA has accused Thailand’s coconut industry of using and abusing monkeys to pick coconuts, but they deny the charges, saying they no longer use monkeys for the job .
These accusations could cost the industry billions of baht and some are quick to accuse People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) of cultural racism.
See: Many voices in Thailand accuse PETA of cultural racism and double standards
For more than a century, people in southern Thailand have bred and trained monkeys to climb trees and collect ripe coconuts for them.
However, this traditional way of life is now under intense scrutiny after it was condemned by PETA as “animal abuse”.
“Enslaved monkeys are suffering,” PETA says in its video drawing attention to the use of primates on Thai coconut farms.
See: Boycott of monkey-picked coconuts in Thailand spreads
Last week, PETA said Walmart was the latest U.S. retailer to drop major brand Chaokoh coconut milk products, which it says are produced using the labor of monkeys.
Walmart has joined Costco, Wegmans, Super King Markets and Cost Plus World Market in removing Chaokoh products from its shelves.
Two PETA Asia undercover investigations revealed the use of chained and caged monkeys in Thailand’s coconut harvesting industry.
PETA says these primates are actually social animals that should be free to roam the forests and interact with their fellow humans.
Chaining them and forcing them to work as “coconut-picking machines” is an act of cruelty, adds the association.
PETA says consumers can end the misery of primates by avoiding coconut products that use monkey labor.
In 2021, Thailand exported about 26.58 billion baht worth of coconut milk, with the United States being a key market.
The Department for International Trade Promotion (DITP) has denied that the monkeys are being abused for Thai exports.
He claims that industrial producers of coconut products use only human labor and machinery.
DITP chief executive Phusit Rattanakul Sereeruengsit said that while coconut-picking monkeys exist in Thailand, they only play a role in community life.
“Monkeys are not part of the industrial coconut farms,” he said.
“Most importing countries understand Thai culture.”
He also pointed out that Thailand enacted the Cruelty Prevention and Animal Welfare Act in 2014.
See: Thailand in the fight against animal abuse
Theppadungporn Coconut Plc, which makes Chaokoh products, has vehemently denied accusations that it abuses monkeys.
It commissioned Bureau Veritas, a world leader in testing, inspection and certification services, to inspect its operations.
Phase 1 inspections, which took place in 2020, found no evidence of the use of monkeys for harvesting coconuts.
Phase 2 inspections are ongoing.
Meanwhile, more than 1,000 Thai coconut farmers and dealers supplying Theppadungporn Coconut have signed the company’s pledge against the use of monkey labor.
Visit Limlurcha, vice president of the Thai Chamber of Commerce and honorary president of the Thai Food Processors Association, said perhaps Thailand should campaign more to persuade the world that it does not practice cruelty to monkeys.
“We could invite interested parties to come and see how our industry works,” he added.
Relationship between monkeys and their owners
Somjai Saekhow, who runs a monkey training school, said coconut-picking monkeys were common in several southern provinces, including Surat Thani, Nakhon Si Thammarat and Chumphon.
“Monkeys and their owners are like friends,” she explained.
At his school, monkeys are taught to harvest coconuts without using sticks or punishment.
The primates are simply shown how to turn ripe, brownish coconuts until they fall from the tree.
When they become more curious and adventurous, they start picking coconuts on their own, Somjai said.
Monkey owners send their animals to school for proper training.
Although people collect coconuts, they rely on the monkeys and their natural agility to pick up the coconuts hanging from the tops of the trees.
Farmers are paid a few baht per coconut.
A Thai monkey owner said he treated the animal “like his own child” and they even ate the same type of food.
Coconut-gathering monkeys are descended from the native population of southern pig-tailed macaques (Macaca nemestrina), which is a protected species.
However, they can be legally kept as registered pets in Thailand.
Therefore, visitors to the Kingdom can see monkeys not only on top of coconut trees but also performing stunts in animal shows.
Monkeys also often appear in Thai films, with some of them picking coconuts.
Source: Thai PBS World