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The Battle of the Yaki

I am sure most of readers have seen the Sulawesi crested black macaque’s monkey (macaca nigra) selfie. This primate is known as Yaki in their motherland, North Sulawesi (Indonesia). Currently Yaki’s selfie picture is on its legal battle for the copyright ownership. David Slater, a nature photographer, was documenting the monkey’s life and habitat in North Sulawesi when his camera was “stolen” by Yaki. This incident brought Slater fame as the Yaki took selfie using his camera that resulting the incredible quality of images. One of these selfie images now placed in Wikimedia Commons where people can use the images for free without royalty payment. A legal battle is still ongoing between Slater and Wikimedia for the copyright status of the image.


Yaki’s Battle to Survive

Meanwhile, in another continent, the Yaki themselves are facing their own battle to survive from being extinct. The majority of them now living in sanctuary forest, Tangkoko National Park (North Sulawesi), but yet the number of Yaki is reducing. For the past 30 years, this primate has faced 90% declining and now listed as Critically Endangered by IUCN Red List. Their reducing numbers due to the deforestation of their habitats and the eating habits of people in North Sulawesi who eat any animals (that includes dogs and bats).

Yaki is a popular animal to hunt when the local fishermen are unable to sail during the rainy season. The fishermen have no other options to survive than hunting whatever they can get in the forest to sell in the local markets. I have long-term anger towards this situation. I don’t blame the hungry fishermen and their families but I do blame the North Sulawesi Governor who was during the campaign had proclaimed to have high interests in protecting and conserving the nature. But in practice, he’d prefer to sponsor mining industries that contribute nothing to the welfare of majority locals and leaving long-term destruction. I wrote an open letter to him last year (in the Indonesian language) to remind his campaign promises and to review the environment degradation condition in his province. It appears a local news media in North Sulawesi agreed with my point of view and it was re-published last month.


Tangkoko National Park

Having seen Yaki myself in Tangkoko National Park (North Sulawesi), Yaki was surprisingly having a smaller size than what they looked like in the pictures. Their body length is about 40 cm to 70 cm with weight less than 15 kg. Yaki lives in groups with male Yaki as a leader. They communicate by displaying their teeth, grunts and smacking their lips. Additionally, they maintain their relationship by grooming each other. Currently, there is a project Selamatkan Yaki (Save Yaki) to save the monkey from extinction. The project focuses Tangkoko-Batuangas nature reserve area which is the home of this primate. The project also includes the socialization and educative campaign to the locals to avoid selling and consuming Yaki meats.

Besides Yaki, we also saw Sulawesi Spectral Tarsier, which is considered as the smallest monkey in the world with a size of less than 30 cm and weight less than 130 gram. Their looks are pretty much reminding me of the Gremlins. They are active at night.

We also saw knobbed hornbill, a really beautiful and huge bird! It is also listed as vulnerable species according to IUCN Red list.

Overall the national park has numerous unique endemic species: 127 mammals, 233 bird, and 104 reptiles are listed in its nature reserve. The national park also has beach area called as Batuangus Beach, which also an entrance to the park by boat. It was advised to stay a night in the national park if interested to see the animals closely.

How to get there

North Sulawesi is famous as diving and snorkeling destination. I have been writing earlier about the diving area in this province as you may read in this link. Even if you were not a scuba diver, snorkeling in Bunaken is perfect – their corals garden can be viewed at less than 5 meters deep. Simply stunning.  In my experience, and maybe I am a lazy traveler, most of resorts and hotels in North Sulawesi offers a day tour package to Tangkoko National Park.

If you’d like to organize the trip yourself, Prue Sinclair from has written a tip how to reach Tangkoko in her post, Tarsiers, Black Macaques and Jungle. Tangkoko National Park.

When to visit

The best and most comfortable time to visit Tangkoko is during the dry season which starts in June until September.

October to May is the rainy season with the heaviest waterfall in January and February. We were there in October and the weather was mostly dry with bits of rain at night.

Yaki’s Selfie and Yaki’s Survival

Perhaps because I am taking photographs regularly then I should share sympathy to David Slater. However, despite the camera’s manual setting by a photographer, the photos would not be created without clicking the shutter.  I found the case was overwhelming that humans fight against the images by the monkey who tried to survive from being extinct. And their near extinction happened because of humans. Perhaps it is the time to appreciate that a monkey could create wonderful images, and let the royalty goes to help their survival efforts…


  1. Wow these are great photos and a beautiful post Indah. It’s wonderful that you stepped up and sent an open letter to the Governor to protect these beautiful animals for extinction. Maybe once they steal not only cameras also computers and sent emails by themselves. 🙂 Till then it’s great that they republish your letter again. Congratulations. Every little bit pushing into the right direction to conserve and keep our nature intact may help. Thank you for sharing this great work Indah.

    • Thank you Erwin..haaa..I wish they can type how they feel to the Governor 😀 The governor will be retired soon so I hope the next one will take care of the nature in this province better than him..

  2. Wonderful post Indah! I enjoyed very much reading it! I didnt know about the Yakis, they are beautiful., I hope you letter makes a difference, good job.

    I love the tiny monkey, it really does remind me of the Gremlins too hahaha how cool! I guess I have to include this this amazing place on my itinerary to Indonesia too! 😀
    Great photos as always!

  3. Great post Indah. With the help of google translate I was able to read most of your open letter.
    Too many species are threatened or have already lost their battle. Let’s hope these guys survive.

  4. Amazing story! Yes I have seen the “selfie” – could not believe the monkey did it 🙂 They are lovely monkeys, and thank you for your efforts to raise awareness. People must be desperate if they have to eat a monkey who looks like a human. It is the Government’s responsibility to rather sponsor tourism than destructive industry.

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