When the pandemic hit Thailand the media has followed the release and freedom of hundreds of elephants as the tourist sites all closed down. In the city of Lopburi, around 750,000 residents co-exist with about 6,000 macaques, yet not in exactly peaceful terms. 

Macaques have roamed free in this city long before the pandemic as they attracted tourists who paid money to feed the monkeys fruit and for pictures. With no tourists coming in due to lockdown, the macaques have run out on food, making them violent as the locals strive to keep them under control.

By March, the macaques were caught fighting over limited supplies of bananas. In an attempt to keep them peaceful, locals have resorted to feeding them junk food. However, they believe that sugar is making them breed faster.

Monkey Take-Over

For many of the residents, they have locked themselves in to keep safe from the massive monkey population. Kuljira Taechawattanawanna, a Lopburi resident, said, 'We live in a cage but the monkeys live outside. Their excrement is everywhere, the smell is unbearable especially when it rains.'

The macaques have also disturbed residents in other ways - by ripping rubber seals off car doors and ruling the streets around the city's center at the Prang Sam Yod Temple. Due to the lack of food and their increasing numbers which have doubled in just three years, some have traveled to the city's outskirts.

Ken Kingkanchanarot, an owner of a tutorial school, shared that 'They make us feel uncomfortable and insecure because sometimes they even threaten or bite people when those people refuse to give them food. It's really dangerous walking around with your food while the monkeys are all starving.'

Supakarn Kaewchot, a government veterinarian, said. 'they're invading buildings and forcing locals to flee their homes.' Supakarn and other government vets will be sterilizing 500 monkeys in the city within the next two months to try and control their population.

The sterilization project will begin with authorities placing cages filled with fruit throughout the city to capture some monkeys. They will then be neutered, tagged, and freed again. There is also a long-term plan to build a macaque sanctuary outside the city, which not all the residents agree to.

'We need to do a survey of the people living in the area first,' said Narongporn Daudduem from the wildlife department. 'It's like dumping garbage in front of their houses and asking them if they're happy or not.'

Read Also: Two Harvard-led Coronavirus Vaccine Trials Conducted on Monkeys Demonstrated Protection and Immunity Against the Virus

Macaques and Coronavirus

The macaques are notoriously known to be thieves stealing food and jewelry from tourists. They even caught some media attention in late May when monkeys attacked a lab assistant carrying blood samples, which tested positive for coronavirus and stole them in India. 

Some macaques in Thailand have become part of their coronavirus vaccine trials, which may be ready by 2021. This follows favorable outcomes from initial tests with mice models. Harvard also conducted vaccine studies in macaques in May, where they achieved immunity. Scientists recognize that the results for monkeys will be genetically different for humans and continue to push forward until safe human trials can begin.

Read Also: Thailand is Developing a More Affordable and Accessible Coronavirus Vaccine for Southeast Asian Neighbors