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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. It’s so hard to have the indigenous people stop the hunting of these beautiful primates, since their life may depend on it. Leadership is required from the government to avoid an extinction here. Your work may raise the awareness of activists who may save these animals for future generations to observe.

  2. Well said Indah about Yaki’s survival. I hope those who visits the forest could create awareness of the locals that protecting them could raise more money than hunting them. Just like the safari in Africa.

  3. “…and the royalty goes to help their survival efforts.” I couldn’t agree more with that, at least that’s the least we, humans, could do. I believe the benefit of having live yakis in the forest is a lot bigger than having them on people’s dining tables. Maybe a study should be conducted for this matter as the same study was done to manta rays which resulted in the law that makes Indonesia the world’s largest manta ray sanctuary.

    • Thank you Bama – and many thanks for RT the article 😉 it inspired me to write this post..Yes, indeed, research to understand them is crucial. Last year I watched a British documentary on Yaki and they did research as well. I am afraid it depends on the provincial government as well and noting that the park is closed by to a mining area then perhaps he’d prefer the mining than conserving..

  4. Hi Indah. A fabulous post. As you may know (from a previous post) I’m not a big fan of monkeys, however, it is a shame that the Yaki population should be reduced to close to extinction. Politicians worldwide are not an endangered species however! 😦
    (And many thanks for your many visits!)
    Bon week-end

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