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Diseased monkeys putting city folk at risk

Monday January 7, 2008

PETALING JAYA: They may be adorable, even cute. But the thousands of monkeys forced into city streets and housing estates by urban development could be downright dangerous.

Many of them are carrying blood parasites and the herpes virus, or suffering from simian malaria and dengue.

Veterinary Association Malaysia (VAM) vice-president Dr S. Vellayan said humans could be infected with diseases carried by the monkeys, if there was close contact.

“Once these monkeys carry the virus, there is a possibility that those who keep them as pets would contract the disease.

“However the situation also works in reverse, as monkeys easily catch diseases from humans,” he said.

Dr Vellayan, who is also an assistant director of Zoo Negara, said he had conducted post mortems on monkeys killed in road accidents or dead ones brought to the zoo, and found they had suffered from simian malaria, dengue, blood parasite and herpes virus, among other diseases.

He said these were only a handful of monkeys and there were many more not exposed.

The monkeys usually found at the urban areas include the long- tailed and pig-tailed macaques, and the leaf monkey.

The monkey population in Ma-laysia is about 700,000, with 250,000 in urban areas.

Dr Vellayan said this problem occurred in many major cities throughout the country due to the massive destruction of forests that has pushed the wildlife to seek shelter and food in urban areas.

Another veterinarian Dr Roy Sirimanne said that these monkeys could be infected with diseases contracted from humans if the animals licked human spit.

“The mosquitoes that usually feed on the monkeys will also tag along, increasing the risk of vector-borne disease transmission,” he added.

When contacted, Natural Re-sources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Azmi Khalid said the ministry viewed seriously the migration of monkeys to urban areas and the danger of diseases brought from them to humans.

“A thorough study is being done on the issue. We will reveal later the steps that we will take once we have completed our probe,” he added.

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