Who knew a selfie could attract attention to an entire species? That’s exactly what happened when Naruto, a crested black macaque living in the Tangkoko-Batuangus-Duasaudra Nature Reserve on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, stole a photographer’s camera and snapped a photo of himself.
Naruto belongs to the species Macaca Nigra, known locally as yaki, which the International Union for Conservation of Nature has placed as one of the world’s 25 most endangered primates. The playful monkey’s selfie not only sparked a copyright lawsuit, but also put his species, and the dangers he faces, into the limelight.
Antje Engelhardt, of England’s Liverpool John Moores University, has been studying the yaki for over a decade with her colleagues through the Macaca Nigra Project. She and her team observe the monkeys in their natural habitat on Sulawesi and study their behavior within their complex social groups.
Macaques are very territorial animals and the Tangkoko reserve is home to three main groups, each with about 80 members and an alpha male whose dominance is often challenged by other males. Though disputes are common, the animals rarely kill challengers, opting instead for quick, theatrical fights.
Scientists are eager to study these amazing creatures as threats to their existence are always rising. Surveys from 2009 to 2010 put their numbers at about 2000 within the reserve and Engelhardt says that their population has dropped in recent years.
Land clearing, road construction, hunting and trapping all work to diminish their population, despite efforts made by conservationists to protect their habitats. The market for exotic “pets” is thriving and macaques are still hunted for their meat.
A rapidly changing environment on the island has forced these monkeys into smaller and smaller areas and poachers are often able to avoid being caught by law-enforcement. Though Indonesia is dedicated to preserving its wildlife, controlling and stopping trappers and hunters is challenging and many monkeys are still killed or trapped every year.
Centers like the Tasikoki Wildlife Rescue Centre work to save the wildlife in the region from being illegally sold and hopes to revitalize their population by releasing them back into the wild and allowing them to rebuild social groups.
Like so many endangered species, the future of the crested black macaque rests in the hands of those who hope to protect them and understand how to preserve their behavior.
Top photo by Pavel Kirillov, CC BY-SA 2.0
Lauren Leising is a freelance writer based in Athens, Georgia.