Monkey attacks at Hort Park more rampant, spark search

A decision on whether to keep the Forest Walk (above) closed for longer will be made by Sunday. Meanwhile, Ms Tang (inset), who was scratched and bitten, says she did nothing to provoke the animal.

SINGAPORE - Recent monkey attacks at the Southern Ridges, located near HortPark at Alexandra, has sparked a search for a large alpha male macaque. 

The Straits Times (ST) reported that three people were attacked by macaques at the Forest Walk over the past three weeks.

The recent attacks were the first to result in physical injury at the HortPark since it opened in 2007, said HortPark and Southern Ridges assistant director Wendy Seah.

Forest Walk has been closed since last Thursday after National Parks Board (NParks) received reports of people being bitten and scratched by macaques.

Ms Seah told ST that a search is on for a large alpha male macaque which is believed to be responsible for the attacks. The aggressive alpha male is also thought to be the leader of a pack of six macaques.

Attempts to catch the macaques with baited traps have been unsuccessful so far, said NParks which has been closely monitoring the situation.

NParks will decide by Sunday whether to extend closure of the Forest Walk.

While it is unknown why the alpha male macaque had turned violent, it is believed that the recent attacks involved people carrying food and drinks.

Monkey feeding problems at the park and other nature spots have existed long before the attacks at HortPark. However, "it's possible the situation just reached a tipping point," said Mr Benjamin Lee, NParks assistant director and macaque expert. 

ST reported that people it spoke to have suggested that the creatures have become bolder in recent years, often foraging for food near bus stops and playgrounds, and sometimes harassing people holding food, drinks or plastic bags.

One of the victims, Ms Tang Mae Lynn, 37, who was attacked on Sept 18 said she was not carrying any food and had stayed as far away from the macaques as possible.

"The baby monkey came towards me and my boyfriend because it was curious. It kept going around my feet and then it squealed and attracted the adult monkey. What was I supposed to do?" she said.

Mr Lee suggested that the HortPark macaque may have attacked if it felt its personal space had been invaded.

Macaque expert Dr Michael Gumert at Nanyang Technological University said people should move away from baby monkeys when they approach because the parents are invariably nearby and primed to attack to defend their young, even against innocent gestures.

Mr Gumert also suggested widening trails to create more space between people and animals.

Officers at HortPark has since put up more signs advising people not to feed the animals.

maryanns@sph.com.sg