Are Monkeys Picking Your Coconuts?
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. Infact, 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 them1. For you. And for all of us.
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, drink it, put it on our skin, and in our hair. And the monkeys are doing the dirty work for us.
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. 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. 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 reward2. 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? 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 fat3.
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.
Skin Health & Coconut Oil
Beyond consumption, you hear and read about many natural skin care 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.
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 not put coconut oil on your face as a moisturizer.
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.
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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.