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Thailand denies monkeys abused to harvest coconut products

07:31 | 09/07/2020

Thai Commerce Minister rejected the allegations made by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and declared that coconut harvesting by monkeys is not a major part of the industry. 

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thailand denies monkeys abused to harvest coconut products
A working monkey is on the pickup truck with its owner to collect coconuts on a plantation in Thailand. Photo: AP

Thailand's coconut-picking monkeys, long a popular tourist attraction, have become a sensitive trade issue as British activists claim the animals are abused and push for a boycott of the nation's coconut products.

Thai Commerce Minister Jurin Laksanawisit rejected the allegations made by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and declared that coconut harvesting by monkeys is not a major part of the industry. He said the animals are mostly a tourist attraction and are not harmed.

Jurin said recently that PETA’s campaign was affecting sales in Britain as well as other European countries.

According to AP citing from the source of the government of Thailand, the country exported 12.3 billion baht ($395 million) of coconut milk in 2019, including 2.2 billion baht ($71 million ) to the European Union and Britain.

thailand denies monkeys abused to harvest coconut products
Coconut products are pictured at a supermarket in Bangkok, Thailand

PETA said an undercover investigation of eight Thai farms found that monkeys are forced to gather as many as 1,000 coconuts a day and treated cruelly. It said its campaign has led several major retail outlets to remove products from companies alleged to use Thai coconuts harvested by monkeys.

The PETA campaign has drawn extra attention after it was publicly applauded by Carrie Symonds, the fiancee of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

PETA Senior Vice President Jason Baker rejected the Thai commerce minister’s denial of monkey abuse in the industry.

“The government can lead the industry to operate humanely, with an animal-free method that the rest of the region has already adopted, or it can be responsible for the industry’s downfall, because the writing is on the wall,” he said in an emailed statement. "Increasing numbers of consumers are speaking with their wallets, and retailers are listening.”

Jurin said his ministry would hold a meeting Wednesday with coconut industry representatives and he would invite foreign diplomats to see for themselves how harvesting is carried out.

Somjai Saekow, a monkey trainer in the southern province of Surat Thani, told The Associated Press that although monkeys are still used for gathering coconuts, there is less demand for them.

“I still think monkeys are useful tools in picking coconuts," she said. “But I can tell you that things are changing.”

She said over the years shorter trees have been cultivated to facilitate picking coconuts by other methods.

She said most owners take good care of their monkeys and treat them just like pets, although there were sure to be some exceptions.

"We have to point out those who commit the wrongs and correct them," she said. "But I truly believe that most people treat their monkeys right. And that’s the best way to do get them to work”.

thailand denies monkeys abused to harvest coconut products
PETA claims that each macaque is forced to pick as many as 1,000 coconuts per day. Photo: PETA

The Thai National Shippers’ Council appears to be unfazed by the so-called ban on Thai coconut products in the West, saying getting monkeys to pick the fruit is a tradition in Southeast Asian countries.

Visit Limlurcha, the council’s vice president, said the ban on Thai coconut milk in English supermarkets over alleged animal abuse will not really hurt exports because the ban is only applicable in limited sections.

“Thai coconut products were banned out of a misunderstanding. Monkeys are like pets for Thai people and banning the products doesn’t make sense because Thailand’s animal-protection laws are stronger than in other countries. If this was the real reason, then coconut products would have been banned a long time ago”, he said.

(Source: The Nation/ANN)

thailand denies monkeys abused to harvest coconut products
Thailand says coconut-picking monkeys are mostly a tourist attraction and are not harmed. Photo: EPA 
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Tony Nguyen

AP, The Nation, ANN