Monkey labour row: Thai trainer rejects PETA claims on coconut harvesting
Denying accusations of cruelty, Nirun Wongwanich, who trains monkeys to fetch coconuts at a “monkey school” in the southern Thailand, says most coconuts used for exports are harvested by humans with poles because the trees were shorter.
A monkey trainer in the southern Thailand said very few monkeys are involved in harvesting coconuts for export and there was no abuse at his centre, disputing an activist report following which Thai products were banned by some British supermarkets.
Earlier this month, some British retailers pulled Thai coconut products after a report by People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) alleged that coconuts in Thailand were picked by abused monkeys with Prime Minister Boris Johnson's fiancée Carrie Symonds calling on other supermarkets to do the same.
Thailand is among the world’s biggest producers of coconuts, producing about 1.3 million tonnes of each year. It exports a range of products, from fresh and desiccated coconuts to coconut milk and oil. The PETA campaign affected sales in the UK, as well as other European countries, Thai Commerce Minister Jurin Laksanawisit was quoted as saying by the Bangkok Post.
PETA in a previous statement said that it believes "virtually all" coconuts from Thailand are picked by monkeys.
But Nirun Wongwanich, 52, who trains monkeys to fetch coconuts at a “monkey school” in the southern province of Surat Thani, says most coconuts used for exports are harvested by humans with poles because the trees were shorter, Reuters reported.
Only a few farms in the south use monkeys for older, taller types of coconut trees, he said, adding that he sometimes trains monkeys for these farmers.
Nirun denied accusations of cruelty. “There is no truth to that. I have been with monkeys for over 30 years … I have a bond, a relationship with them,” he told Reuters, adding that he only trains six to seven monkeys in a year and insisted hitting monkeys was not done because they would become stressed and not cooperate.
Thailand’s government has also fiercely denied the PETA report, saying the use of monkey labour was “almost non-existent.”
Thailand’s Theppadungporn Coconut Co, the maker of Chaokoh coconut milk, said that the company buys coconuts from plantations that use humans to harvest. It is the country's major coconut producer that Peta alleges is using monkey labour denied the claims.
Another major coconut producer -- Thai Agri Foods, the maker of Aroy-D coconut milk said its products aren’t sourced from plantations that use monkeys.
Mananya Thaiset, Thai deputy minister of agriculture, said Thailand’s 200,000 coconut growers overwhelmingly use human labour and machines for harvesting. "Even all the monkeys in the entire forest won't be enough for the industry because we export hundreds of thousands of coconuts (each year),” Mananya said.
Thailand last year produced over 806,000 tonnes of coconut over 1,243.7 square kilometres, government data shows. It exported coconut milk worth 12.3 billion baht ($396 million), about 8% of it to Britain.