No monkey business: Thailand launches primate birth control

LOPBURI, Thailand Fri Aug 21, 2009 3:21am EDT

1 of 2. A macaque monkey eats a candy in the town of Lopburi, 155 km (96 miles) north of Bangkok, August 19, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Chaiwat Subprasom

LOPBURI, Thailand (Reuters Life!) - Thailand is trying to limit the number of monkeys that roam freely in the town of Lopburi after residents complained the primate tourist attractions are becoming more annoying, and aggressive.

About 2,500 macaques live in close proximity to the people of Lopburi, north of Bangkok, scrambling around its famous, ancient Hindu-Buddhist shrine and Khmer-style pagodas as well as homes and the local market.

The monkeys often snatch bags away from passers-by, and even enter homes to steal food and play. Barbed wire and iron fences are a common sight on buildings to deter them.

For years, residents have tolerated the animals, but the monkey population is growing rapidly and intensifying the battle with humans for food and living space.

Veterinarians, who are sterilizing male monkeys, say this will benefit the macaques, not just the people.

"There is not enough food or homes for monkeys," said veterinarian Juthamas Sumanam. "If their numbers increase, people will be in trouble as well as the monkeys."

Every day, a team of vets marches into alleyways, armed with candy bags to tempt the monkeys, who are then captured and operated on.

At least half of the 1,500 male macaques are expected to be sterilized as part of the program. Male monkeys can mate 10 times a day and females can give birth twice a year.

The sterilization procedure takes around half an hour. The monkeys are released back into their concrete jungle the next day, after they have recovered.

Last year, the primates gave birth to 500 babies. Veterinarians are aiming for a maximum of 300 from now on.

But while the monkeys can often be an annoyance, not everyone in Lopburi, which thousands of visitors a year come to partly to see the animals, agrees with the program.

"The main attraction in Lopburi is monkeys. The tourists only come here to see monkeys. Only a few of them come here to see the ancient shrine," said temple worker Saksit Saepoo.

Macaques can live up to 35 years.

(Editing by Miral Fahmy)

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