Out & About: 'Topeng monyet',
violation of animal rights

Although Bram Maro described topeng monyet (a kind of door-to-door monkey performance) as "one of the most original forms of entertainment", it is, in fact, one of the cruelest violations of animal rights.

As a child in the early 1970s, I wanted a topeng monyet to perform for my birthday because I had never been able to watch an entire show. My parents were against it, but I begged them and they finally complied. The monkey that eventually came to my house was named "Sarimin".

Sarimin carried a bag and went to the market. Sarimin rode a wooden horse. Sarimin took a stroll with an umbrella. Sarimin put on lipstick. Sarimin donned a monkey mask.

I was not amused. Even as a child, I felt there was something wrong with Sarimin.

He didn't seem to enjoy putting on his mask or walking around with his wooden horse. I certainly didn't like that his owner kept a chain around his fragile neck.

I bet Bram Maro has never heard about the dancing bears in India or Romania. Like topeng monyet monkeys, these bears are captured when young -- or even at birth -- and then trained.

As babies, they have thick chains placed in their septa, used to lead them around and to train them to spin in circles -- something we in the audience call "dancing".

When a bear stops twirling, its owner jerks the chain (which is excruciating for the bear) and the bear starts up again.

Although beating the animal is part of the daily training, jerking its nose is the most effective way of getting it to do what it is supposed to.

Likewise, a topeng monyet trainer will jerk the iron chain tied around a monkey's neck, forcing it to pretend it's carrying an umbrella or donning a mask.

While waiting at a traffic light, I've watched an owner without audience keep on jerking his monkey's chain every time the poor creature tried to sit -- to get him to put on the mask.

The owner jerked, the monkey put on the mask. The monkey put down the mask, the owner jerked, and so on and so on. Across the street, another monkey puffed away on a cigarette while the crowd laughed and applauded.

Similarly, dancing bears know nothing but dancing and spinning. And if you think these bears are treated like pets and considered part of the families who own them, think again.

They don't get to live in cosy houses or to sleep in bed with their owners.

Instead, they sleep outside on the ground or in cages, fed once a day in the evening with dry bread and only after they perform.

By the time they're old, most of them have become depressed and delusional, spinning around and around without end.

Some of them become so aggressive, no amount of nose-jerking and beating can get them to stand still, so the owners simply return them to the woods where, far too domesticated, they have no way of feeding themselves.

Although this so-called "traditional" entertainment has now been declared illegal in Romania, "dancing bear" performances -- which, like topeng monyet are considered among "the most original" -- still exist.

Owners simply bribe the police. Some animal rescue organizations have been buying dancing bears from their owners in an effort to provide the animals with care and counseling, with the overall aim of getting them back to the wild; but, most of them are unable to.

How could they be? Many were born and raised in captivity. Those lucky enough to receive counseling and wildlife rehabilitation escape the fate of endless twirling and exhaustion and even starvation (for those too depressed to eat).

So, please don't take animal entertainment at face value. Certainly, some animals, when trained to perform tricks, are rewarded with food when successful.

When unsuccessful, some trainers simply try again, through rewarding, not by punishing or hurting.

In less developed countries, on the contrary, people seem to have less empathy toward animals.

Topeng monyet monkeys in Indonesia, for example, are not trained using a reward system. Like dancing bears, they perform to avoid the punishment and pain inflicted on them by their trainers. That is cruelty, not entertainment.

Teach your children not to be "captivated" by such behavior or they, too, will find themselves lacking empathy and tolerating other forms of cruelty toward animals and nature. I, for one, am glad topeng monyet is dying out as a form of entertainment. It is wrong and should become extinct.

For more information on dancing bear, go to http://www.savethebears.co.uk/dancing-bears-india.shtml https://donate.wspa.org.uk/form.asp?id=83

--Dyah Suharto

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