Long-tailed macaques may have been touted as the common monkey of South-East Asia, but the the ones we have in Singapore special for several reasons.
First of all, Singapore is right smack in the middle of the specie’s natural distribution.
What this means is that Singapore’s macaques may hold the key for nerdy scientists to understand the evolution and dispersion of the species, and genetics research is ongoing.
That might mean very little to most of us, but what might interest us Singaporeans more is that long-tailed macaques were given their scientific name Macaca fascicularis by none other than Sir Stamford Raffles, in 1821, not long after he founded Singapore.
You’d think fascicularis means “a long tail”, given that they are known for their long tails that are longer than the tails of other macaque species, but the term is actually Latin for “a small band or stripe”. I wonder what Raffles was thinking? Perhaps the first long-tailed macaques he saw had the little black whorls on their cheeks that some of them sport (most Singaporean macaques don’t have these though, it’s more commonly seen in the Burmese subspecies).
Some biologists argue that the macaques we have in Singapore can even be classified as a unique subspecies based on various morphological differences. For example, our macaques are smallest of all the long-tailed macaques, but have the highest testes to body size ratio. People say our monkeys are getting bolder? I’d say they’re just a little ballsy (heh).
(bad) Jokes aside, our monkeys are unique when compared to other urban macaque populations.
Our monkeys interact with people more peacefully than urban macaques elsewhere, although exaggerated and sensationalist media reports may make this hard to believe. Rates of aggression and contact are much lower than in places such as Bali, Gibraltar and Mt Emei, and are almost always instigated by people feeding or taunting monkeys . This is something to be appreciated, and we can keep it that way by continuing to behave calmly and appropriately around them.
Ongoing studies are also discovering that our macaques are extremely healthy for a population that interfaces so closely with humans. Parasite loads in their guts are unusually low for urban macaques, and we don’t see signs of obesity that is common in macaques that live so closely with people. Population densities remain well within natural ranges, unlike places like Hong Kong and Bali with highly inflated macaque densities.
So while we celebrate this National Day, let’s not forget these special simians that also call Singapore home.