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The Straits Times, 5 Jul 04

An island getaway - for monkeys
By Jane Ng
To save them from caging or culling, 15 animal lovers propose a haven-cum-attraction on Pulau Tekukor

A GROUP of animal lovers has proposed that a Southern Island be turned into a haven for monkeys, to save them from culling as well as serve as an eco-tourism attraction.

The 15-member group, made up of mainly long-time expatriates here, has decided on Pulau Tekukor, an uninhabited 4.9ha isle less than 1km away from Sentosa. They settled on it after 15 visits, said the group's leader, Ms Barbara Martelli, 40, a former husbandry specialist who looked after the needs of animals in a joint research the National University of Singapore had with the zoo.

Its varied terrain, including a forested area and a rocky shore, can provide different habitats for the long-tailed macaques commonly found in nature reserves here. Also, when the deserted island becomes a monkey haven, it'll open another area for people to visit, said Ms Martelli.

'I believe there are seven monkey islands in the world, but nothing similar in concept.' The closest, she said, is probably the monkey mountain in France 'but the monkeys there, rescued from elsewhere, are not in their natural habitat'.

What motivated the group to produce a long-term solution were the nasty alternatives for the monkeys: be culled or be stuck in a cage for the rest of their lives.

Figures from the National Parks Board and Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) show that an average of 43 monkeys have been culled in each of the last four years because they became too aggressive. They'd threatened people or become a nuisance by raiding homes and stealing food.

The plan for a monkey island took two years in the making, with the group, most of whom are permanent residents, spending about 10 hours a week on it. They come from diverse backgrounds and include a university professor, a consultant in travel and tourism marketing and a founder of an adventure resort in Bintan.

They have even worked out lesson plans for experiential learning for students, contacted tertiary institutions about possible collaborations and written to eight agencies to seek approval for the project.

The agencies include the AVA and the Singapore Land Authority. So far, most have given in-principle approval, but the final decision will come from the Sentosa Leisure Group which manages the Southern Islands.

The firm's corporate communications manager, Mr Robin Goh, said: 'It's a cause we truly support but land-use plans for the Southern Islands are in a preliminary phase. When they are firmed up, we'll assess which site would be best for the monkeys.'

The group estimates it will cost $1 million to get the project going and it can offer visitors, among others, a guided trail to learn more about animal behaviour and local myths about the Monkey God. The island's rich flora and fauna will also allow visitors to do wildlife sketching, nature photography or bird-watching, said Ms Martelli.

The island can take up to 120 monkeys and its first residents could be the 52 macaques at a temporary shelter in the zoo. There are about 850 long-tailed macaques in Singapore's nature reserves. Said Ms Martelli's brother, Paulo: 'This is a window of opportunity to save the monkeys which are part of the heritage of Singapore. 'We've gone through so many meetings to lobby for the cause, it'd be a bad omen to be turned down in the Year of the Monkey!'

The project group also has a brief website Monkey Island, with a location map of Pulau Tekukor.

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