Monkey Business in Malaysia
Monkey school sounds pretty cute and innocent.
Like you may want to attend yourself to really nail down your monkeying-around skills in life.
And then when you hear monkey school is in Malaysia - hey you’re getting ready to hop on a plane and have a vacation in southeast Asia!
But really, monkey school is not nearly as adorable as it sounds. In fact, there is only one class, and if you don’t follow instructions, you get punished.
Pig-tailed Macaques attend monkey school to learn how to identify ripe coconuts and pick them(1). For you. And for all of us. So yes - monkeys may be picking your coconuts!
We certainly can’t deny the global craze for all things coconut. Coconut water, coconut oil, coconut meat - we love it all. We eat it and drink it for a healthy diet. We put it on our skin, and in our hair for green beauty. And the monkeys are doing the dirty work for us.
Training Monkeys To Pick Coconuts
The advanced training process for the pig-tailed macaques often begins when they are quite young, sometimes too young to be forcibly weaned. Is there really ever an age, though, in which a monkey should be forcibly separated from their family? Training can last around 6 months and includes two stages.
The first stage occurs at the base of the tree, at ground level. In stage one, the monkeys need to familiarize themselves with coconuts and learn to enjoy handling them. They learn tricks like rolling a coconut with each of their hands. This will help them detach the coconuts from the trees once they are in the tree canopy, so that they can successfully pick coconuts. Stage one is the hardest part, and some monkeys are more obedient than others, meaning they receive less punishment.
Stage 2 involves the monkeys climbing the trees while obeying up to 30 different verbal cues. They roll the coconuts back and forth with alternating hands to loosen them from the trees. Why do monkeys pick coconuts, instead of humans? Well, monkeys can harvest many more coconuts than humans, ranging from 300 to 1,000 in a single day.
These monkeys are usually on a leash 24/7. They are trained through punishment, or no punishment. And they receive no to little reward (2). Some lucky monkeys may have trainers that treat them lovingly like a pet, but this is not the norm.
Is that jar of coconut oil, that can of coconut milk, or that bottle of coconut water worth it? Do you love coconut oil so much that you'd want leashed monkeys picking coconuts for you? Would you want to be potentially contributing to the harm of monkeys for the sake of a superfood? Are coconuts really a superfood, anyways?
Let’s take a look…
Coconut - A good fat or a bad fat?
There is so much conflicting information on the health benefits of coconut oil.
Coconut oil is 80-90% saturated fat. Other examples of foods high in saturated fats include meat, butter, palm oil, and dairy. In general, the American Heart Association recommends a diet higher in unsaturated fats. A study indicated that coconut oil raised LDL cholesterol, which is the “bad cholesterol.”
So where does coconut oil get its touted benefits from?
Coconuts contain a large amount of lauric acid. Lauric acid has been shown to not only raise the “bad” LDL cholesterol, but also the heart-protective “good” HDL cholesterol levels. The connection between lauric acid and heart disease, however, is not fully understood.
Coconut oil also contains medium-chain-triglycerides, or MCTs, which have the benefit of quick absorption by the body which can lead to feelings of fullness and mitigate the bodies response to store fat (3).
Our take-away is that consuming coconut products is simply about balance. As always, diversity within your diet is usually the best rule of thumb.
Green Beauty & Coconut Oil
Beyond consumption, you hear and read about many green beauty tips calling for the use of coconut oil in their recipes. It is always a good idea to understand the ingredients in your green beauty products or DIY skincare recipes. In fact, we made a very thorough (and very free!) E-Book on Non-Toxic Beauty.
One aspect of oils in skincare is their rating on a “comedogenic scale” from 0-5. Comedogenic refers to an oils pore-clogging abilities. 0 is the lowest ranking, meaning there is no, to very low chance of the oil clogging your pores. 5 is a high rating and implies a significant chance of pore clogging.
Coconut oil is rated as a 4. This is a pretty high rating, indeed, and it is therefore recommended to use caution if you choose put coconut oil on your face as a moisturizer, especially if you are prone to breakouts.
So why do many natural skin care tips advise the topical use of coconut oil? Well, everyone’s skin is different. Some absorb coconut oil better than others. On most of the body, coconut oil may be a great ingredient in nourishing and hydrating the skin. It is especially a wonderful ingredient in soap because of its ability to lather up and produce big bubbles. Check out our Black Cedar Soap to find out for yourself!
Our black cedar soap contains coconut oil (not fetched by monkeys!)
After all is said and done, it is really up to you if you’d like to consume coconuts in any of its forms. But please, for the sake of the monkeys, do your research on which brands you should be purchasing from. Fair trade stands for ethical treatment of humans, and unfortunately does not guarantee that monkeys are not used in the picking of coconuts. Anato can ensure you that the coconut oil used in our Black Cedar Soap is from an ethical source: both environmentally and socially. No monkeys, humans, or landscapes are harmed in the production process.
How to take action:
● Now that we know monkeys are used to pick coconuts, we can link some of the coconut industry to animal abuse, making it so important to know your source. When in doubt, don't buy it, or you may be supporting monkeys that pick coconuts.
● Remember to consume coconut products, both internally and topically, in moderation
● For more articles on cosmetic industry insight, green beauty, and zero-waste living join our Forest Fridays newsletter here.
● Find out if your makeup choices are perpetuating child labor: The Dark Side of Shimmery Makeup
● Continue to seek out the truth behind not just environmentally safe skincare choices, but socially safe products as well
Learn the truth behind the beauty industry
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- Bertrand, M. (1967). Training without reward: traditional training of pig-tailed macaques as coconut harvesters. Science, 155(3761), 484-486.
- Ruslin, F. A. R. H. A. N. I., Azmi, M. A., Matsuda, I. K. K. I., Amir, R. U. S. L. I. N., & Md-Zain, B. M. (2017). Monkey school: Training phases for coconut-picking macaques (Macaca nemestrina). Malayan Nat J, 69, 301-306.
- Malik, Vasanti. (2019). Is there a place for coconut oil in a healthy diet? Harvard Health Blog.