Imagine a city where the hustle and bustle of trade and daily life is overshadowed by a rather unusual problem – an overwhelming population of mischievous monkeys! This is the reality for the residents of Lopburi, a once thriving trade hub in Thailand, now teetering on the edge of becoming a ghost town. The cause? Over 5,000 crab-eating macaques that have taken to the streets, causing chaos and driving potential visitors and business away.
In an effort to reclaim the city from these furry menaces, the Lopburi Municipality, led by the proactive Mayor Jamroen Salacheep, has teamed up with the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation. Together, they’ve embarked on an ambitious plan to gently relocate the macaques to a sprawling new home known as the “Monkey Garden.” This massive refuge spans over 13 rai (approximately 2.08 hectares) in the Pho Kao Ton community of Lopburi’s Muang district, where these primates can enjoy a slice of wilderness and eventually find their way back to the wild.
The necessity of such an initiative is underscored by the daily struggles faced by Lopburi’s residents. One vivid illustration that caught the nation’s attention, and quickly turned into a meme, was a photograph capturing a schoolgirl humorously brandishing a toy gun at a curious monkey while balancing bags of beverages. This image, while amusing to outsiders, starkly represents the daily reality of living in close quarters with these cunning primates, notorious for swiping food and even valuables from locals and tourists alike.
Such is the extent of the monkey mayhem that Lopburi has seen a steady exodus of businesses and a significant drop in tourism. Songsak Techaiya, a local cloth vendor, lamented the city’s transformation into a “ghost town,” with the monkey population driving tourists away and harming trade. “Many shops closed down or moved out of the city area,” he recounted, expressing a sentiment echoed by many in the community.
The challenge of managing the monkey population is not new. Attempts to relocate them, especially from popular tourist spots like the Prang Sam Yot pagoda ruins and the Phra Kan Shrine, were met with resistance. However, the dire situation has brought “all the sectors” together, according to Athapol Charoenshunsa, director-general of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, signaling a collective endeavor to resolve the issue.
Action has been underway for some time, with a sterilization program initiated back in 2014 as part of efforts to control the monkey population. To date, out of the 5,709 macaques reported last year, a total of 5,135 have been sterilized, with 2,757 of those in the municipality area. This initiative has gradually reduced their numbers, from a staggering 9,324 in 2018 to more manageable levels, although the challenges persist.
The vision for Lopburi’s future is one where monkeys remain a symbol of the province, but their numbers are maintained at levels that allow humans and primates to coexist peacefully. The move to the Monkey Garden is a hopeful step towards restoring balance, ensuring that Lopburi can reclaim its reputation as a vibrant city, free from the clutches of its current monkey chaos. As the city embarks on this audacious plan, the hope is that Lopburi will soon no longer be known as a ghost town, but rather a thriving community where both residents and wildlife can flourish.