How monkeys in Malaysia lead to corporate negotiations for animals
I recently wrote a post about how I originally started volunteering and how it changed my life. This was the first of many steps along my journey, and today I thought I would tell you about another crucial turning point.
A few years after I fell in love with giving back, I was still searching for what I wanted to do. Was I going to start a charity? Get a job with a charity? Or something else which had yet to surface?
During this time, I had a girlfriend ask me to join her on a trip to Malaysia to celebrate her 40th birthday. She wanted to travel from Singapore, up to Kuala Lumpur, and finally to a small island off of Malaysia called Tioman Island. I’m always up for an adventure, so I was in!
While on Tioman Island, one day I went out for a walk by myself and came across two monkeys chained to a tree. I remember the moment like it was yesterday. The sight took my breath away. I stood there in amazement that I seemed to be the only one who noticed. All the locals and tourists just walked by and didn’t even notice the cruelty right in front of them.
The two little guys were so sweet and starved for attention. One’s chain had got so twisted up in the tree so that he was not able to walk on the ground without standing on his toes. I was happy I had sunglasses on to help hide the tears streaming out of my eyes at the sight.
I didn’t know where to start, but I had to do something. I talked to some guys running a stand near the tree and learned the monkeys “belonged” to the lady running the gift shop across the street. I started to head in to speak to her, but given I was dressed in western workout clothes and she was dressed in a burka, I decided my opinion might not be well received. I needed to step back and come up with a plan.
I emailed a few animal rights and primate organizations, but was unable to find a sanctuary I could get them to. I also contemplated releasing them in the night, but learned they would likely starve in the wild or just come back to her. Finally, I talked to a lady running a restaurant we had been to frequently who spoke perfect English.
She didn’t know the store owner, but agreed to help me. I had to leave a few days later, so we talked on the phone and via email. She worked her way to a friend of the store owner and was told the woman was very kind, so she went to speak with her. She expressed my concerns and said the woman said she simply had never stopped to think about if they were happy or not.
After their discussion, she added more platforms to their tree for enrichment and started taking them on walks. I was told one of them really enjoyed playing in the ocean. They were still living on the chains, but I felt it was something.
This was my first experience fighting for the rights of animals, and it felt great. I was inspired, and I wanted more. Within a few months, I was helping PETA’s Corporate Affairs team reaching out to companies to push them to change their practices to improve animal welfare.
I often think of the monkeys and wonder if they are still there. Although improving their lives was wonderful, the fact is I didn’t get them off the chains. I plan to go back someday, and if they are still there I won’t leave until they are free.
(If you read this and are on Tioman Island, please comment, and let’s work together to make that happen!)