Tiny monkeys in baby clothes or diapers, in a bubble bath or with make-up on their faces: Videos of macaques that are portrayed like human children attract many likes and malicious comments on social networks. For the helpless animals, the psychological and physical damage they suffer is often enormous.

The torture extends to the deliberate death of the animals – all in front of the camera and to the amusement of numerous users, as a new report from the Social Media Animal Cruelty Coalition (SMACC) revealed. The association includes 20 animal protection organizations.

For the report “The Suffering of Macaques for Social Media Content,” SMACC employees examined around 1,250 photos and videos on social networks between September 2021 and March 2023, primarily on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and YouTube. The animal rights activists documented more than 2,800 cases of obvious abuse. So on average, each piece of content was assigned to more than two abuse categories.

The most common cases of evidence were conscious psychological and physical abuse, including torture. Many macaques were apparently separated from their mothers when they were just a few days old and sold as pets. Some were beaten, others were put in clothing that was far too tight and forcibly prevented from getting out of it. Food deprivation was also part of the spectrum of abuse. Particularly shocking: In dozens of cases, baby macaques were apparently under the influence of drugs, sexually abused or – sometimes slowly and painfully – killed.

“Anyone who feels connected to animals can only be shocked when they see these videos and photos of macaques in human care – all the more so since they are among the most popular animal content on social networks,” said Wiebke Plasse from the World Animal Welfare Society, which tells the Verbund is the only German organization to belong to. Both the networks and the legislators must urgently put an end to this animal suffering, she demanded.

Some viewers misinterpreted the primates’ behaviors, expressions and gestures as pleasure, happiness or joy, the report said. The supposed smile is often a grimace with which the animals express their fear.

Experts agree that keeping primates as pets is inherently cruel and poses a host of problems. Like other wild animals, macaques always retain their natural instincts and needs and cannot develop in human households in a species-appropriate manner.

Northern pig-tailed macaques were most commonly seen in the videos, followed by long-tailed macaques and stump-tailed macaques. The species are classified as “vulnerable” to “endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Macaques are often kept as pets, especially in Asia, but also in the rest of the world, although this is illegal almost everywhere. Their popularity as social media content is motivating more people to get baby macaques and use them to create more content, animal rights activists warned.

Sources:  World Animal Protection Society, DPA