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How does plastic pollution impact wild animals?

Plastic pollution is a global crisis affecting countless ecosystems, yet its impact on terrestrial wildlife, including Sulawesi macaques, remains largely unknown.

An international team of experts has embarked on a research project to explore the effects of plastic waste on Sulawesi moor macaques, an endangered species native to Indonesia.

This initiative aims to uncover the extent of these monkeys’ interactions with plastic and understand local community perceptions regarding this issue.

Sulawesi macaques and plastic pollution

This innovative study is a collaboration between scientists from the University of Portsmouth and Universitas Hasanuddin. The project is the first of its kind to examine the relationship between Sulawesi macaques and plastic pollution.

Dr. Teresa Romero from the University of Portsmouth emphasized the significance of this research: “We know surprisingly little about plastic distribution in terrestrial environments and its impact on wildlife. This project seeks to fill that gap by examining how macaques interact with plastic pollution.”

Moreover, the research involves direct observations, live monitoring, and the use of cameras to study macaque behavior around plastic waste.

The collected data will document wildlife-waste interactions and assess plastic pollution levels within the macaques’ habitats.

Impacts of plastic pollution on wildlife

Despite significant attention to marine plastic pollution, its impact on land-based animals in regions like Indonesia remains underexplored.

Indonesia, a major producer of plastic waste and a biodiversity hotspot, faces unique challenges.

“This project will help us to understand the effect of plastic pollution on wild animals, which is needed to develop effective conservation plans to protect the wildlife and environment,” said Dr. Risma Maulany.

By studying the behavior of Sulawesi macaques in their natural habitat, researchers aim to gather critical data that will inform conservation strategies and policies to mitigate the negative effects of plastic waste.

Engaging local communities

The next phase of the project will be focused on engaging local communities through interdisciplinary, arts-based methods to raise awareness about plastic pollution.

These interventions will be co-designed with trusted local organizations and tailored to the social and cultural contexts of the communities involved.

Dr. Cressida Bowyer, Deputy Director of the Revolution Plastics Institute, noted the importance of community involvement.

“Bringing the community into the conversation is crucial for fostering sustainable solutions to plastic pollution. By understanding local perceptions and leveraging community engagement, we can work towards effective waste management policies and conservation initiatives,” said Dr. Bowyer.

The goal is to develop collaborative efforts that lead to meaningful changes, protecting both wildlife and human well-being.

Protecting Sulawesi macaques

Indonesia’s critical waste management challenges, particularly in coastal areas like Sulawesi, highlight the urgent need for informed policy decisions.

This research has the potential to drive change at both local and national levels. By working across disciplines and borders, researchers are paving the way for a more sustainable future for wildlife and communities alike.

Sulawesi moor macaques 

Sulawesi moor macaques, scientifically known as Macaca maura, are a fascinating species of primate endemic to the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia. They are one of several macaque species found on the island, each with its own unique characteristics. 

Sulawesi moor macaques are distinguished by their dark black or brown fur and considerably robust physique compared to other macaque species.

Diverse habitats

These macaques are primarily terrestrial, spending a lot of their time on the ground, which is somewhat unusual for macaques that often spend their time in trees in other regions. 

Moor macaques have adapted well to Sulawesi’s diverse habitats, ranging from lowland rainforests to mountainous areas. Their diet is omnivorous, consisting of fruits, leaves, and small animals, which they forage from both the forest floor and the canopy.

Social lives

Socially, Sulawesi moor macaques live in large groups that can number up to 100 individuals, though groups of around 30 are more common. 

Their social structure is matriarchal, with females generally remaining in the group into which they were born and males leaving the group upon reaching maturity. This social dynamic contributes to their complex social interactions and hierarchical structures.


Like many primates, Sulawesi moor macaques are facing pressures from human activities. Habitat destruction due to logging and agriculture, along with hunting for food, pose significant threats to their populations. 

Conservation efforts are in place to protect their natural habitats and promote sustainable coexistence with human populations. These efforts are crucial for ensuring the survival of this unique macaque species.


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