Conservation Information

The Formosan Macaque and Us

  • The natural relationship between humans and the Formosan macaque is one of non-interference
    Most Formosan macaques live in the mountains and have little contact with humans. While humans and macaques occasionally meet, most of the time they do not interfere with each other. Formosan macaques will run away on seeing humans while humans will mostly just watch the macaques instead of hunting or feeding them. Normally, the size and the number of Formosan macaques in an area depends on the abundance of the natural resources there, reaching a state of dynamic balance.

  • Feeding issues
    Feeding of macaques has already caused many problems in Taiwan. When people see wild animals, they offer food such as bread and fruit either because they want to draw their attention or because they think the animals like or need humans to give them food to survive. Some hiking trails in mountain area are macaque habitats. This feeding behavior has become a local culture in these places. Both humans and macaques have grown accustomed to the feeding behavior. People think it is a good thing while the macaques become dependent on the food, leading to the development of abnormal behavior. Macaques not only approach tourists aggressively but also attack them in order to grab food and other items. Moreover, macaque numbers increase and they eventually suffer from malnutrition.
    While food given by humans is tasty and delicious, it contains excessive fats, artificial additives, and seasonings. Chemical residues may be left on fruits and vegetables bought from the market and some fruits are high in calories. These factors are likely to cause poor nutrition of Formosan macaques and even affect their health. Furthermore, trash such as plastic bags may cause pollution of the environment. Feeding also impacts on foraging habits of the macaques and causes conflict with humans.
    Owing to legal regulations and the promotion of environmental education in recent years, a more appropriate human-macaque relationship has been promoted and feeding problems have been greatly reduced. However, the general public still needs reminding of the correct behavior to adopt so that we can get all along with our “good neighbors”.

  • Damage prevention
    In recent years, news about damage to crops by Formosan macaques has been common in Taiwan. Formosan macaques have become notorious for raiding crops such as lychee, mango, oranges, longan, papaya, and bamboo shoots, and farmers have suffered great losses in many orchards in rural areas in Taitung, Pingtung, Changhua, Nantou, and Tainan. The authorities, academic units and farmers have tried many solutions, hoping to minimize damage to crops without hurting Formosan macaques. Many methods have been used such as keeping dogs in the orchards, setting off fireworks, playing the radio, setting up nets or electrified wire nets, hiring people to watch over the orchards, switching crops and seeking compensation for agricultural losses.
    Another factor leading to crop damage by Formosan macaques is restrictions on their natural habitat because of land cultivation by humans. Original macaque habitats are now used to grow fruit trees; therefore, the fruit on these trees has become forage. When human interests conflict with the survival of Formosan macaques, human beings, who have more wisdom and coping ability, should shoulder the responsibility to solve the issue and achieve a win-win resolution instead of resorting to extermination.

Information on the Formosan Macaque

Formosan rock macaques (to give them their full name) are the only native primates in Taiwan apart from humans. They are classified as primates of the Cercopithecidae family of the genus Macaca. Their scientific name is Macaca cyclopis. They are classified as an old world monkey of the M. fascicularis species. Fascicularis macaques also include M. mulatta, M. fuscata, and M. fascicularis. Currently, Formosan macaques are listed as a Level III species in the Wildlife Conservation Act, as “Other Conservation-Deserving Wildlife”.

  • Physical characteristics of Formosan macaques
    The Formosan macaque, with its rounded head and flat muzzle, has specialized pouch-like cheeks and its front limbs are shorter than its back limbs. Their thick, soft coats of fur cover their entire body and are brown or dark gray in color. While the hairs on their abdominal skin are thin and white, those at the ends of their limbs are darker in color. Formosan macaques are very nimble. They can jump swiftly between branches, travel on the ground with great agility and even climb rapidly up and down cliff walls.

  • Distribution of Formosan macaques
    Formosan macaques can be found in low-altitude forest as well as temperate forest at elevations between 100 meters and 3000 meters, but they inhabit primarily forest at elevations of between 500 to 1,500 meters. Most of their habitat is remote from human settlement while some overlaps with it. In such places as the Fushan Botanical Garden in Yilan and the Sheding Nature Park in Kenting, humans and macaques do not have direct contact; that is, macaques will run away from people while people do not interfere with the macaques. However, in places such as Shuiguan Road in Yangmingshan, Ershui in Changhua County, Dakeng in Taichung City, Tatajia in Alishan, Nanhua in Tainan City, Shoushan in Kaohsiung City, Formosan macaques and humans have developed an interactive mode of co-existence — feeding and fighting for food.

  • Behavior of Formosan macaques
    Formosan macaques are diurnal animals. They are active in the day time while they find a place to rest or return to their regular habitat before sunset. They are social animals, living in a social group called a troop with a stable hierarchy. Troop size averages 20 to 30 individuals while larger troop sizes may include 60 to 70 animals. The social structure of the Formosan macaque is generally a large, stable matriarchal society in which females often have blood ties. There is one alpha male in a troop, who can have sexual relationships with all females in the troop. The status of the females in a troop is hierarchical, forming a stable social structure. Female offspring will inherit the mother's social status. Generally speaking, female offspring rank lower than the mother with younger siblings ranked higher than older siblings. Females will remain in the troop all their lives while males will leave the troop once they reach maturity. Some single males will continue to live on the fringes of a macaque troop, others may remain solitary, and still other single males will join a troop as in-troop single males.

  • Eating habits of Formosan macaques
    Formosan macaques can be classified as omnivores but they feed mainly on fruit. Fruit is a priority food when in an environment with a plentiful supply. But, in fact, Formosan macaques consume a wide variety of foods. In addition to over 300 kinds of plants on record, they will eat all of the various parts of a plant, including seeds, fruits, flowers, leaves, stems, sprouts, barks, roots and insect galls. They also eat insects, spiders, birds’ eggs, frogs, lizards and any animals they can catch. Some research indicates that they even eat soil for the minerals and trace elements.
    Since the foods and nutrients Formosan macaques need are all present in their living environment, they do not need the extra food humans offer them. Human feeding damages the ecological balance and it will cause malnutrition in the long run.

  • Formosan macaque reproduction
    Formosan macaques reach sexual maturity and have the ability to breed at the age of four or five. The mating season runs from October through February each year. During this period, males tend to fight with one another in order to mate with females. To compete for breeding rights, the alpha male of the troop tends to fight more often with the in-troop males and females and even has serious fights with single males from outside of the group.
    Gestation is about five and half months. Formosan macaques give birth to a single offspring per pregnancy. Birthing occurs from April through June each year. During these months, mother macaques can be often seen carrying dark, wrinkled, big-eyed baby macaques.

  • Activity patterns of Formosan macaques
    Generally speaking, foraging accounts for the largest proportion of a Formosan macaque’s day. That is, Formosan macaques spend most of their time eating; resting and moving are the second most frequent activities, and then grooming, a social activity shared by all individual troop members. Overall, a Formosan macaque’s day can be described as follows. After a Formosan macaque wakes up it will move about and eat. Around noon, they start to engage in social activities such as grooming. Then, they take a short break before they start foraging. They rest again in the evening.
    Their living environment has much to do with the fact that Formosan macaques do not rest at night in a regular place. For example, Formosan macaques in Kenting have a limited number of places suitable for resting at night. They rest behind raised coral outcrops to avoid the foehn wind in winter while preferring to rest atop cooler coral outcrops in summer. In places where the weather conditions are less harsh, Formosan macaques have more choices for resting, including caves to keep out of the wind and forest areas away from roads. In addition to weather conditions, availability of food will influence their choices for resting places at night. For instance, they may choose a place to rest at night where they can easily gather fruit when they wake up the next morning.

  • Formosan macaque habitat in Shoushan National Nature Park
    According to a survey on Formosan macaques conducted in the second half of 2012, there were 36 macaque troops in Shoushan and 1411 macaques in total (95% confidence interval: 1,251 - 1,592 animals). The habitat of Formosan macaques in Shoushan overlaps with visitor recreation areas. Therefore, it is easy for visitors to spot macaques on the trails, near temples, or in rest areas. Macaque troops will sometimes go to houses or nearby stores and even enter houses to search for food, damaging the environment. These incidents leave a negative impression on people that Formosan macaques are overly-aggressive foragers.
    Formosan macaques in Shoushan have long been fed by humans so they show no fear and will even approach to get food. However, their aggressive behavior can cause visitors to panic, engage in conflicts with macaques, and even suffer injury. Through educational programs in recent years, feeding activity has been greatly reduced. However it does still occur. Conflict between humans and macaques occurs often. Therefore, continuous efforts from administrative units and the public are needed to reach a consensus of “No feeding, No contact.” With the gradual modification of macaque-human relationships, we can maintain harmonious relations with the Formosan macaque and allow them to live their own sustainable lifestyles in a natural environment.
Last Updated: 2014-11-25