Arms deal

23rd January 1998 at 00:00
(Photograph) - The youth's smile is half friendly, half suspicious. The monkey looks stern - its natural expression, but one well suited to its predicament. Such bizarre scenes are everyday sights on the streets of New Delhi, according to the man who photographed this performing rhesus macaque, Pete Oxford. "Throughout the Indian subcontinent animals are often exploited for the benefit of tourists," he says.

"Machine Gun Monkey" was highly commended in the World In Our Hands section of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, on show at London's Natural History Museum.

Although Pete Oxford did not pay to take this photograph, many people do - which is why this cruel sideshow persists. Until recently, chimpanzees and lion cubs suffered similar indignities in Spain and the Canary Islands. Tethered, toothless and often sedated, their habitat became the tourist beaches, until they grew too large and unruly to handle and were killed.

Thankfully this trade has all but disappeared in Spain - neither animal is native to the country and their illegal import has been stopped. But although classified as threatened, the macaque, as an indigenous species in Asia, faces no such protection. The animals are frequently made to perform tricks and tasks such as fetching coconuts from trees in India, Thailand and parts of the Far East.

"They are intelligent, fairly small and agile and easy to teach," says David Bowles of the RSPCA's international department. "The macaque is native to India so no international law is being broken."

So these creatures continue to be abused in return for a few rupees. Does this say more about the lengths to which people will go to alleviate poverty or the depths to which others will stoop for a novelty snapshot?

Turn to page 34 for Ted Wragg's Teaching Tips on the Big Picture

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