Primatologist Andie Ang On How We Can Best Protect Endangered Primates
Ironically, conservationist Andie Ang first became interested in primates after she received a live vervet monkey as a gift. It was illegally taken from Zambia by sailor friends of her relatives.
“I was only 10 years old and did not fully grasp the difference between a wild animal and a domestic pet. So I raised the monkey like I would a pet dog until I learned, through watching him every day, that he was miserable chained up at home,” Ang says.
The monkey was eventually repatriated back to Africa, but the close-up experience sparked a passion in Andie to study primates, beginning with a stint at the Singapore Zoo, and later at Khao Yai National Park in Thailand observing white-handed gibbons. She enjoyed it so much that she continued her research in the different forests of Asia, and eventually pursued a doctorate project on leaf-eating monkeys in Vietnam.
Today, Ang chairs the Raffles’ Banded Langur Working Group, which includes representatives from the Wildlife Reserves Singapore, National Parks Board, and Jane Goodall Institute Singapore (JGIS). The project aims to conserve the Raffles’ banded langurs—black and white monkeys native to Singapore. There are currently fewer than 60 langurs left in Singapore, so the group hopes to protect and restore their habitats; gather data on them through long‑term research and monitoring; and secure the necessary resources and commitment to the species' conservation in Singapore and Malaysia. The initiative is funded by the Wildlife Reserves Singapore Conservation Fund and has the long-term goal of continuing its conservation work for the next 10 to 15 years.
As vice-president of JGIS—the Singapore chapter of the global non-profit organisation started by world-renowned primatologist and conservationist Jane Goodall to inspire individual action in improving the understanding, welfare and conservation of primates—Ang also works with the team to come up with public educational programmes. These include monthly Monkey Walks at Lower Peirce and MacRitchie reservoir parks, as well as Bukit Timah Nature Reserve; a Monkey Guard programme to help residents near macaque hotspots to co-exist with monkeys; and getting youths to be macaque awareness ambassadors under the Roots & Shoots programme.
JGIS president Tay Kae Fong says, “Like Dr Goodall, we believe there’s reason for hope if we all act now. In Singapore, we take a species-specific approach to primate conservation. For the langurs, we focus on surveys of their small population and work with other stakeholders to increase their numbers.”
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Ang believes that protecting and living in harmony with our local wild animals is the responsible thing for the human population to do. During Goodall’s visit to Singapore in August 2017, JGIS formed a Macaque Working Group with other non-profit and government organisations to come up with conflict prevention and standardised protocols to minimise incidents between macaques and humans. Tay says, “For the long‑tailed macaques, it’s about reducing human-macaque conflicts.”
“These native animals share our urban and forested environments and I believe that they shouldn’t be treated as if they don’t belong here. Our society is mature enough and ready to find solutions to minimise human-wildlife conflicts. Singapore still has plenty of wildlife and natural areas, and it is not too late to find ways to develop sustainably and coexist with our wild neighbours," says Ang.
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Ang also created a website where she shares information on different primates and their specific localities, as well as the researchers and conservationists that the public can contact.
Recalling Goodall’s handwritten postcard from their 2015 meeting, where the conservationist had commended her doctorate research on Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys found on the difficult terrain of Khau Ca in Vietnam, Ang says, “Her words of encouragement continue to motivate me today. I’ve always been inspired by her simple approach towards conservation, which is honouring the connectedness between people, animals and their environment."
“Being in the concrete jungle for too long will distance us from nature, to the extent that we’d have no reservations removing it. An important first step is to further integrate nature into our educational curriculum and our daily lives.”
See honourees from the Environment category of the Gen.T List 2019.