The Rise of Coconut Products and Primate Exploitation
Is your coconut water really vegan?
You go to the store, pick up some coconut water or coconut milk and check the label for all the usual things: is it definitely vegan? Have they snuck any dairy or animal fats in there? Satisfied with your choice, you purchase it and leave the store without a second thought. However, what the label doesn’t tell you is that many companies source their coconuts from specific regions of the world where pig- tailed macaques are taken from the wild and intentionally bred and trained - often using cruel, punishing tactics - to harvest their coconuts.
Thailand is one of the many countries that uses monkeys to harvest coconuts and has been doing so for nearly 400 years. But why monkeys? Well, it turns out that a male macaque can collect an average of 1,600 coconuts a day, and a female, 600. Humans on the other hand, can only collect around 80. They also claim that it is safer for a monkey to pick the fruit as the trees can be up to 80 feet tall. The monkeys are always tethered to a handler and are not allowed to eat any of the coconuts they collect. Animal Place, a sanctuary for farmed animals in California, has compiled a list of coconut companies that they have asked to specify from where they source their coconuts, but most of them had never been to the coconut plantations and could not confirm. Monkey trainers in Thailand have spoken up and said that it is more than likely that all of the companies contacted by Animal Place are using coconuts that were picked by monkeys.
Arjen Schroevers runs the Monkey Training School in Surat Thani, Thailand. It is a Buddhist- inspired school founded 50 years ago for the sole purpose of teaching monkeys how to pick coconuts. The school claims to not use force or violence when it comes to training the monkeys. Schroevers insists that the allegations of mistreatment are wrong and the majority of monkeys on coconut farms are treated very well.
In an email interview with NPR’s The Salt, Schroevers stated, “It is always relaxed, no shouting, no punishing. Every few trees the monkey hugs his owner, who then checks the monkey for red ants - who live in the trees - and the monkey gets a massage. Outside working hours, the monkeys are kept as pets - only for the family owners, to strangers they are not friendly.”
When questioned about the monkeys being tethered, Schroevers said it served a variety of purposes, but most importantly, it prevents them from escaping. Of course, it is a cultural difference, and can be compared to many similar practices around the world, such as sheepdogs herding livestock, dogs sniffing for contraband in airports and oxen ploughing fields.
No matter how you try to spin it, these are still wild animals; many of whom have been captured from their natural habitats and forced into indentured servitude. Hopefully, the claims of abuse are invalid; but where do you draw the line?