M’sia’s rat-eating primates grab world headlines

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BY JOSEPH MASILAMANY

IT CAME as a bolt in the blue when the world media caught up with a bit of science news from Malaysia – relating to the discovery of rat-eating macaques in palm oil plantations in the country.

The Guardian’s international edition in a tongue-in-cheek headline with an intended
pun screeched: “Shock and gnaw: Rat-eating macaques stun scientists.”

It went on to say: “Scientists in Malaysia have said they were ‘stunned’ to discover monkeys regularly killing and eating rats on palm oil plantations, providing a natural anti-pest measure in the country, which is responsible for 30 per cent of the world’s palm oil production.

The New York Post republishing from London’s The Sun newspaper issued this attention grabber: “Rat-eating monkeys in Malaysia stun scientists.” In typical tabloid genre the sensational opening paragraph of the newspaper read: “Killer monkeys were found to be catching and gobbling up large rats in Malaysia.”

The story by reporter Sean Keach quoted Universiti Sains Malaysia zoologist and lecturer Nadine Rupert who revealed her research and published her findings together with others in the Oct 21issue of Current Biology journal.

Rupert told the London journalist: “I was stunned when I first observed that macaques feed on rats in plantations. I did not expect them to hunt these relatively large rodents, or that they would even eat so much meat.

“They are widely known to be frugivorous primates who occasionally feast on small birds or lizards,” she said.

Britain’s The Telegraph also screamed it out loud on this strange primate behaviour: “Killer rateating monkeys stun scientists in Malaysia”.

The newspaper claimed that the monkeys gobbled so many rats, so much so, palm oil plantations in the Southeast Asian nation may no longer need chemical pest control! Pig-tailed macaques had previously been considered a pest themselves as they also consume palm oil fruits.