Monkey trainer defends practices

Monkey trainer defends practices

'Very few' animals used to harvest coconuts, contrary to Peta claim

Nirun Wongwanich, 52, trains a monkey to pick coconuts in Surat Thani. He says his animals are treated humanely and sometimes used on older, taller trees. (Reuters Photo)
Nirun Wongwanich, 52, trains a monkey to pick coconuts in Surat Thani. He says his animals are treated humanely and sometimes used on older, taller trees. (Reuters Photo)

A monkey trainer in Surat Thani says very few monkeys are involved in harvesting coconuts for export and there was no abuse at his centre, disputing claims by animal rights activists.

Earlier this month, some British retailers pulled Thai coconut products from their shelves after a report by People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) alleged that coconuts in Thailand were picked by abused monkeys.

Peta in a previous statement said that it believes “virtually all” coconuts from Thailand were picked by monkeys.

But Nirun Wongwanich, 52, who trains monkeys to fetch coconuts at a “monkey school” in the southern province, says most coconuts used for export are harvested by humans with poles because the trees were shorter.

Only a few farms in the South use monkeys for older, taller types of coconut trees, he said, adding that he sometimes trains monkeys for these farmers.

Nirun denied accusations of cruelty.

“There is no truth to that. I have been with monkeys for over 30 years. … I have a bond, a relationship with them,” he told Reuters.

Nirun says he only trains six to seven monkeys in a year and insisted hitting monkeys was not done because they would become stressed and not cooperate.

The government has fiercely denied the Peta report, saying the use of monkey labour was “almost non-existent”.

Mananya Thaiset, a deputy agriculture minister, said the country’s 200,000 coconut growers overwhelmingly use human labour and machines for harvesting.

“Even all the monkeys in the entire forest wouldn’t be enough for the industry because we export hundreds of thousands of coconuts (each year),” she said.

Thailand does not use monkeys to harvest coconuts on an industrial scale for its export industry, Commerce Minister Jurin Laksanawisit said this week. 

Coconut product makers have reached an agreement with the government to voluntarily set up a system to allow products to be traced to ensure they aren't made from produce picked by monkeys, he added.

Thailand last year produced 806,000 tonnes of coconut on plantations covering 1,243 square kilometres, government data shows. The country exported coconut milk worth 12.3 billion baht, about 8% of it to Britain. 

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