Monkey seen washing hand in outdoor basin of Hougang estate, turns tap off after

A primatologist and NParks give advice on what to do should you encounter a monkey in your neighbourhood

Screengrab of monkey turning on tap to wash hands (left) and monkey eating a vegetable on ledge
Screengrab of monkey turning on tap to wash hands (left) and monkey eating vegetable (Photos: Yahoo SEA reader)

SINGAPORE - A monkey was caught on video turning a tap of an outdoor basin on and off to wash its hands after sneaking into a private house in Hougang on Sunday (19 March) afternoon.

In a video and photos shared to Yahoo Southeast Asia by a reader, the primate was also captured stealing a vegetable in the outdoor garden, casually sitting on a wooden ledge and eating it.

It had also entered the house and taken a bite out of an avocado that was on a table.

Yahoo Southeast Asia spoke with primatologist Andie Ang, who identified the monkey as a Long-tailed Macaque, on its seemingly human behaviour with the tap.

The monkey appeared to turn off the tap after using it. (Video: Yahoo SEA reader)
The monkey appeared to turn off the tap after using it. (Video: Yahoo SEA reader)

"I don't think it consciously knows that it should close the tap after turning it on," Ang said when asked about whether monkeys are aware when carrying out such actions.

She added that it was most probably the monkey's curious nature and need to be mobile with its hands that led to it playing with the water tap.

According to the National Parks Board (Nparks), the Long-tailed Macaque is the more commonly scene species of monkey in Singapore, dwelling in and on the fringes of the rainforest nature reserves in the Bukit Timah and the Central Catchment Nature Reserves.

The macaques also occupy parks such as Bukit Batok Nature Park, Yishun Park and Admiralty Park, as well as Sisters Islands and Pulau Ubin, but this one seemed a bit far from home in the Hougang area.

Transient males in search of food and territory

Ang offered up one explanation for this sighting outside of the territories the monkeys are commonly seen in.

"When transient males grow up to become adults in a group, they will leave their family group to search for a new place. As they travel from one forested area to the next, they will transit between residential areas in Singapore," said Ang.

As a matriarchal species, female monkeys normally stay in the group while males are known to leave after a certain age. They can choose to do so alone or in a group, Ang shared.

A possible reason why monkeys are spotted in residential areas is due to the availability of food and water, whether fed intentionally or unintentionally.

Unintentional food can be harvested fruits found in backyards and gardens, food in trash bins or accessible kitchens, Ang said.

"If there is no food provided to them, houses and roads will just be a passing route that they take to get them to the next forest they see."

She added that it is common to spot transient male monkeys in residential areas, especially near forested areas, although spotting one in Hougang estate may be a slight anomaly as there are no forested areas located in the vicinity.

Minimising home intrusions through community and science-based approach

According to Dr Adrian Loo, Group Director/Wildlife Management at NParks, the organisation adopts a community and science-based approach in managing wildlife in Singapore.

Targeted mitigation measures such as reducing the availability of food have been implemented, Loo added.

This includes enforcing against feeding of wildlife, ensuring proper waste disposal, and harvesting fruit trees.

Nparks also installs monkey-proof fittings and translocates individual monkeys where appropriate.

"Long-term population control measures such as sterilisation are being carefully studied and will be implemented where appropriate," Loo said.

Nparks has also conducted population surveys and carried out research studies, which helps with identifying areas that may require mitigation measures, such as habitat modification.

In addition, it implements outreach and engagement programmes for residents living near green spaces on how to minimise home intrusions.

What to do when a monkey enters your home

Should one come face to face with a monkey entering the house, Ang advised members of the public to leave the monkey alone, keep a safe distance of about 5m (at least a car length) away and let it move on.

She also encouraged observation to see what the monkey is trying to do or what might be attracting it.

For example, if food is what is attracting the monkey, removing the sources of food in your garden or backyard can help to prevent it from returning again to your house.

The final approach is to conduct 'monkey guarding', which is a deterrence practice conducted at the Jane Goodall Institute (JGIS), where Ang is a volunteer and president.

A stick or umbrella is used to hit the ground or surfaces to create loud noises to deter a monkey, though only those who are trained should carry this out.

Should there not be any objects available, one can clap their hands loudly as negative reinforcement.

For those who are approached by a troop of monkeys, Npark's Loo has similar advice.

"If macaques approach you in the open, remain calm and quiet and do not make any sudden movements or maintain eye contact with them. Instead, look away and back off slowly. Keep away from the area until they have left," Loo said.

"Macaques also associate plastic bags with presence of food and will try to snatch them upon sight. We advise members of public to keep plastic bags out of macaques’ sight when spotted."

For wildlife-related issues, members of the public may call the 24-hour Animal Response Centre at 1800-476-1600.