Malaysia has smashed a ring of wildlife smugglers and seized more than 900 poached monkeys destined for China or the Netherlands in what officials called their biggest seizure involving the animals so far, media said.
Wildlife officials arrested four men after finding the long-tailed macaques confined in cages and sacks during a raid on a plantation in the southern state of Johor, the state news agency Bernama said on Monday.
"We believe the monkeys would end up as food in China, where they are said to be an aphrodisiac, and for laboratory studies in Holland," wildlife official Celescoriano Razond, who led the raid, told reporters.
A heap of more than 100 dead monkeys was also found nearby. All belonged to the Macaca fascicularis species, which is native to southeast Asia, and prefers forested areas near water, where it lives off fruit and small animals such as frogs or crabs.
Males are taller and heavier than females, with larger canine teeth, but both sexes have tails ranging between about 1 foot (0.3 m) and 2 ft (0.7 m) and usually exceeding the length of their bodies, says the Web site of the National Primate Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Some of the starving animals in Malaysia had started eating their newborn offspring in desperation or had hurt each other in fights.
"This is highly unusual behaviour among monkeys because they are very protective of each other," Razond, who led Saturday's raid, was quoted by the Star newspaper as saying.
The confiscated monkeys, which are worth about 50,000 ringgit ($14,540) on the black market, would be released in stages in protected forest reserves across the nation in order to prevent them being recaptured, Razond added.
Three of the four men arrested face charges under wildlife protection laws but the fourth, an Indonesian whose visa had expired, was handed over to immigration authorities. ($1=3.439 Malaysian Ringgit)