It looked like I wasn’t going to get a post out this month. I was toying with one about the starlings in the area, but couldn’t get any decent photos – if I was running early for work, there would be no starlings close by; if there were starlings up close, I was running late.
Then a rather unusual article showed up on my newsfeed.
My encounters with Japanese macaques, or snow monkeys (Macaca fuscata), known locally as nihonzaru (日本猿), have almost entirely been limited to zoos, monkey trainers performing in public, or monkey parks. I did come across a wild mother and baby around Nikko some years back, but that is it.
The killing of 57 macaques due to genetic impurity – hybridization with the superficially similar rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta) – has created a minor stir, but I will take a slightly different tack.
Most of the English news contains the same information as the BBC version, so I’ll leave that one here.
Japan zoo kills 57 snow monkeys due to ‘alien genes’
21 February 2017
A zoo in northern Japan has culled 57 of its snow monkeys by lethal injection after discovering they carried the genes of an “invasive alien species”.
Takagoyama Nature Zoo in Chiba said DNA testing showed the monkeys had been crossbred with the rhesus macaque.
The non-indigenous rhesus macaque is banned under Japanese law.
A local official said they had to be killed to protect the native environment.
The zoo’s operator held a memorial service for the snow monkeys’ souls at a nearby Buddhist temple.
Japanese macaques, commonly known as snow monkeys, are native to Japan and are one of the country’s major tourist attractions.
Japan prohibits the possession and transport of invasive species, including crossbreeds.
An official from the Office for Alien Species Management, part of the country’s environment ministry, told local media that the culling was unavoidable because there were fears they might escape and reproduce in the wild.
Junkichi Mima, a spokesman for conservation group WWF Japan told AFP news agency that invasive species cause problems “because they get mixed in with indigenous animals and threaten the natural environment and ecosystem”.
The Huffington Post UK gave some extra information
The zoo housed 164 primates which they believed were all pure Japanese macaques, AFP reports.
But it was later discovered that about one-third had been crossbred and they were culled. It is not clear when the crossbreeding occurred, or if the zoo is at fault.
And this is what I want to know: Why did the zoo perform DNA tests? Is it a standard procedure, or did they suspect something?
Did the hybridization occur in the wild (cue the Lost in Space robot “Danger, danger!”), or did it happen in (gasp!) captivity? And if the latter, what does that tell us about the laws regarding the possession of invasive species, or about zoo management?
Were the culled hybrids the first generation, or were they second – or even worse – third generation?
The articles pose more questions than they answer.