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Sint Maarten is the southern region of the Caribbean Island nation, Saint Martin, divided between France and the Netherlands. Its reputation as a popular Caribbean holiday destination, however, is likely to become tarnished following reports that the government plans to kill the entire population of free-living vervets. Funding is to be given to Nature Foundation St Maarten, an NGO in the country, to capture and kill hundreds of monkeys over the next three years.
Action for Primates and other animal protection and wildlife groups are appealing to the Governor to abandon this cruel and ineffective plan. Instead, they are urging the government to take a compassionate approach to the situation by adopting humane and effective methods for resolving any issues with the vervets.
Why the Government Wants to Kill These Monkeys
The reasons given for killing the monkeys are that the animals are considered to be a “nuisance” and there are concerns about the population expanding. Negative interactions between non-human primates and people are a growing issue facing many communities and governments. Such issues arise primarily due to human population growth and ever-increasing expansion into and destruction of wildlife habitat, resulting in competition over food resources. The monkeys are often negatively labeled as ’pests’ and lethal means are used to deal with any problems. The population of vervets in 2020 was estimated to be about 450. There is a lack of Conservation consideration given to vervets; partly because the species is not ‘native’ to Sint Maarten. The vervets were thought to have been brought to the region by people hundreds of years ago as ‘pets’ and free-living individuals were reportedly first sighted on Sint Maarten in the 1970s.
Vervets (also called African green monkeys) (Chlorocebus pygerythrus) are highly social animals with strong family bonds; living in troops of up to dozens of individuals, with a distinct hierarchy that gives each monkey a place and role. They are known for their complex vocal calls, distinct for different predators and situations.
Criticism of the Lethal Method of Population Control
If certain species are given negative labels, such as a ’pest’ or ’nuisance’, this results in reduced welfare considerations when addressing population control. This is the situation with vervets in Sint Maarten. Regardless of the perception of vervets as ‘invasive’ or non-native, however, the individuals are no less capable of suffering than other mammals who live in Sint Maarten, and their welfare should be considered as part of the decision-making process.
The plan to slaughter the vervets is inhumane and cruel. It will involve the trapping and killing of hundreds of sentient, intelligent beings who are part of complex families and social groups and experience pain, suffering, and distress similarly to people.
The use of lethal means to deal with negative interactions involving monkeys and people is not only inhumane, but it is also ineffective and unlikely to be successful for many reasons. It is unlikely that the entire population can be captured, allowing continued reproduction in those remaining. Removing individuals from the population will result in increased reproduction in those who remain. There is also the issue of migration of vervets from bordering French Saint Martin. Lethal ‘control’ will mean the killing of individuals indefinitely. There are alternative, humane, and effective methods that can be used to address problems long-term.
The Humane Alternatives to Killing Monkeys
There are known humane alternatives that can be used instead of resorting to killing the monkeys. The major ones involve the adoption of a long-term sterilization program to reduce and manage the vervet population while implementing mitigation measures, including developing a culture of coexistence, to help prevent and resolve negative interactions between monkeys and people.
There are preventative measures that can be taken to reduce or avoid conflict with monkeys. For example, people should be encouraged to make small changes to their lifestyle such as monkey-proofing garbage receptacles and deterring entry into buildings using suitable window screening. The same principles can be used for deterring crop foraging. Such behavior can be reduced using fences and other barriers, nets and bells, and systematic guarding. Solar-powered electric fencing can be economical and effective in reducing access to crops.
Wild animals such as vervets are typically fearful of human beings. If, however, people feed or in any way encourage the presence of the vervets, the vervets become less fearful. Feeding can also make the monkeys reliant on a human food source, causing them to spend less time foraging for natural sources of food. It is critical, therefore, that people do not provide encouragement of any kind, including attempts at being ‘friendly’ with the monkeys.
Concerns Over the Reliability of Public Opinion Survey
There are concerns that a survey that may have been used by the Sint Maarten government to help reach its decision to kill the monkeys was biased and not representative of general public opinion. In the survey carried out by Nature Foundation, 72% of the respondents were involved in agriculture, a segment of the population expected to have a more negative attitude towards the monkeys. According to figures published by Sint-Maarten.net, however, agriculture made up just 0.4% of Sint Maarten’s GDP in 2021, whereas hotels, restaurants, and other tourism-related businesses accounted for over 81% of the GDP. Further, the tourism industry provides work for around 80% of the inhabitants living on the island of St. Martin. If the survey had taken this into account in evaluating the responses, it is highly likely that the majority of respondents, aware that the overall economy of Sint Maarten is dependent upon tourism which could potentially be negatively affected by killing monkeys, might have preferred a non-lethal resolution. Even with the inherent bias of the survey, 45% of the respondents were in favor of either sterilization or no action against the vervets.
Animal Groups Call for a Compassionate Approach
Over 40 animal welfare organizations have co-signed a letter from AAP Animal Advocacy and Protection in the Netherlands to the government of Sint Maarten. The organization has offered financial help and expertise to enable a ‘Trap, Neuter, Release’ project, and hopes that the initiative will lead to cooperation and a humane resolution.
Non-human primates share many of the important characteristics we value in ourselves. They are intelligent and highly evolved individuals with complex behavioral and social needs, and it is precisely these similarities that make their suffering so unjustifiable. Rather than dismiss the vervets as ‘pests’ or ‘nuisances’ who need to be eradicated, we appeal to the government and communities in Sint Maarten to Support resolving this issue humanely. After all, it is not the fault of the vervets that they are there. They should not have to pay for this human-caused problem with their lives, especially when there are well-known humane methods of resolution that can be used instead.
With the globally growing acknowledgment of the negative impact human activities are having on the planet and its non-human inhabitants, it is more important than ever that we reassess the way we not only treat non-human primates but also that we commit to humanely resolve negative interactions. For any country dependent on its image as a paradise holiday destination, demonstrating that it approaches such issues with compassion and humanity, rather than ordering the slaughter of an entire monkey population, surely must be the best way forward.
Call to Action:
Please write to the Governor His Excellency Governor Ajamu G. Baly (E-mail: email@example.com) of Sint Maarten and the Minister of Tourism Economic Affairs Transport and Telecommunication (TEATT) (The Honourable Arthur Leo Lambriex (E-mail: TEATTcomplaints@sintmaartengov.org) urging the Government to take a compassionate stance and adopt humane methods of population control.
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