Lack of Tourism: Primates and the COVID-19 Pandemic, Part 1


Amid ancient, towering trees the sun rises over majestic spires, bathing Angkor Wat in gold. Cambodia’s dry season is finally over.  Trees are green, grass is growing and rice paddies quilt the landscape as far as the eye can see.  Life is renewing itself, and everything is returning to normal…or is it?  

The lack of tourism is having a serious impact on the wildlife, and the villagers.

 Much of Cambodia’s economy is driven by tourism

Everyone from tuk-tuk drivers to roadside produce sellers, are feeling the pinch from the lack of tourism.  The usual throng of seasonal travelers are staying home this year to avoid the risk of contracting COVID-19. The lack of tourism has a ripple effect, in a place where tourism is expected, and counted on, as an income source.

In 2018, nearly 251,000 Americans descended on Cambodia, drawn by the beauty and grandeur of Angkor Wat, and surrounding ancient structures.  So far this year, the pandemic has kept America on “no travel” lists worldwide. Even in countries now open to foreign travel, people are hesitant to board a crowded airplane. 

Why am I talking about American tourists  on a web page about wildlife in Cambodia? 

Monkeys in Siem Reap count on tourists as much as local merchants do.  Over six million travelers visit Cambodia every year; they flood into the temple complexes, leaving food in their wake.  Troops of Macaques have called Siem Reap, and the Angkor Archaeological Park, home. For a thousand years, people have been feeding the temple monkeys. The temples have mostly converted from Hindu, to Buddhist, but the monkeys continue to count on the food given to them at temples, and other tourist spots. The lack of tourism due to COVID-19, has greatly reduced this food source.

Lets face it, it’s nearly impossible NOT to feed monkeys when they are smacking their lips, brown eyes pleading with you to please share your lotus fruit with them!

Macaques, already at risk from traffickers and deforestation,

would now face the added risk of starvation were it not for local vendors who have been feeding their overstock to the furry foragers.  Overstock that, ironically, has occurred because there are not enough tourists to buy fruit and vegetables for feeding to the monkeys. The lack of tourism has hit the fruit vendors, hard.

As I watch them happily munching, I can’t imagine more grateful recipients to the bounty of mangoes than that of the macaques!  It’s easy to see just what the draw is that makes people so entranced by them.  With the start of the rainy season, the risk of starvation came to an end. 

That does not mean the monkeys are safe. 

A new generation of babies is learning to climb trees. As the monkeys grow, animal traffickers watch and begin setting up traps in heavily traveled areas. Motorized vehicles zip by on the highway where monkeys frequently cross the road. Most disturbingly, medical labs infect monkeys with COVID-19 in order to test them for a cure. 

Cambodian wildlife is at risk more than ever before.  You can make a difference! Donate to our organization, to support the villagers hit hard by the lack of tourism, and protect wildlife by recycling your trash.

Written by: Lorry Kaller

Hungry monkeys, no one there to feed poor Donny and Brutus Jr., and they need your help!


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