Shock tactics

2019-03-07 10:19:06

By Peter Hadfield in Tokyo CHEEKY monkeys that attack tourists in a Japanese national park and raid local farms are in for a shock. To reinstill a fear of people among the animals, local government officials want to give them electric shocks. But one of the country’s leading primatologists has warned that the plan may be seriously flawed. Every year, thousands of tourists flock to Nikko National Park in Tochigi prefecture, northeast of Tokyo. Nikko is the home of the famous “Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil” monkey sculpture at the Tosho-Go Shrine. Unfortunately, there has been an increasing number of incidents where wild monkeys have literally bitten the hands of the tourists who feed them. The monkeys also rampage across fields of nearby farms and eat crops. In the past, it was possible to shoot the monkeys, but this was banned two years ago. Now local officials in Nikko have decided to embark on a new plan of intimidation. They propose a two-hour session of shock treatment for any monkeys that they catch, after which the animals are released back into the wild, where the authorities also intend to frighten them with fireworks. A spokesman for the Tochigi prefectural government says that an expert from Utsunomiya University has been consulted on the proposed measures. But the spokesman was unable to give details, nor could he say exactly how many volts would be used. According to the Yomiuri newspaper, the director of the prefectural government’s forestry office, Masaharu Fukuda, describes the plan as the best possible way to drive the animals back to the mountains without shooting them. “Although I do feel a little sorry for the monkeys,” he admits. But Tetsuro Matsuzawa, a psychologist at Kyoto University’s Primate Research Institute, warns that the new policy is unlikely to be effective and could end up deeply traumatising the monkeys. “Whether this is legal or ethical is another matter,” he says. Matsuzawa points out that to assess the effectiveness of the measures, the officials need a control group which is not given shocks. “Then you can release both groups into the wild to see if one has a greater aversion towards humans,” he says. Matsuzawa has also confronted the problem of marauding monkeys. The technique he has developed is a version of the behavioural therapy described in Anthony Burgess’s novel A Clockwork Orange, modified for simian subjects. Matsuzawa and his colleagues injected monkeys with drugs so they felt slightly nauseated, then gave them food such as apples that they often steal from farms. The monkeys began to feel sick after their meal and learnt to associate the feeling with what they had eaten. “We were partially successful in making them averse to these foods,