Bukit Melawati – The Fort of the Nice Monkeys

The Bukit Melawati is a mountain in Kuala Selangor in Malaysia. At the top of the mountain is the Kota Melawati Fort. Visible from the outside, the fort consists mainly of a stone rampart. It was built around 1800 by a Malaysian sultan as protection from the Dutch. However, the Dutch took it and built a lighthouse here, the Altingsburgh Lighthouse. A few years later, Fort Melawati  was recaptured and ultimately destroyed in the Civil War, again a few years later.

But the history of the place is only one reason why tourists stray to this hill, the other reason is the monkeys. 

The Selangor langurs

The Selangor langurs are a distinct family among the crested langurs that live in western Malaysia. It has not been known for long that they are a separate species. Until 2013, they were still running incognito with thesilver crested langurs.

The Selangor langurs are comparatively peaceful monkeys. They feed 90% on leaves.The rest of their diet consists of fruits, seeds, flowers and young shoots. The monkeys live together in large family groups. 

Not much is known about the populations of the monkeys, as they have not been a separate species. However, it is known that populations of silver-crested langurs in Malaysia (of which they were then a part) declined by ⅓ between the 1950s and the 1970s. They are currently red-listed as “near threatened“. The Selangor langurs are not listed at all due to lack of data. However, the widespread destruction of forests in Malaysia for palm oil plantations, for example, is destroying the habitat of these amiable animals

Selangur Langur
Long-tailed macaque sitting on a tree
Long-tailed macaque

The langurs at Bukit Melawati

The monkeys At Bukit Melawati, people are used to them. Besides the Selangor langurs, the much more aggressive long-tailed macaques also cavort. These are clearly distinguishable from the langurs in their stocky build and reddish fur. 

Two langurs and a red baby monkey
Only the juveniles in the langurs are strikingly red.

The langurs at Bukit Melawati are regularly fed by tourists.They take food very carefully and sometimes get a little impatient at best if you don’t give them the best treats right away. Then they sometimes climb on people or hold on to arms. However, biting is the exception rather than the rule and is usually due to extremely pushy behaviour on the part of humans. The monkeys do not like to be stroked or touched in any other way, but usually simply bat hands away or back away if they feel harassed. 

The macaques, on the other hand, cannot take a joke and quickly react extremely aggressively when they feel threatened or harassed.They also do not shy away from cleaning out bags on their own. The food of the langurs, however, is rather uninteresting for the macaques. 

Feeding monkeys at Bukit Melawati

At Bukit Melawati, vendors sell food for the monkeys, which tourists can purchase to feed the animals (a well-filled mixed bag costs MYR 10). In 2016, when Max was there for the first time, the traders were still selling biscuits. Now they sell green bananas, leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes, peanuts and beans, which are more like the monkeys’ natural diet. 

Whether feeding the monkeys at Bukit Melawati is a good thing or a bad thing, we don’t reserve judgement on that. However, here are some points you should consider:

  • Feeding the wrong food (e.g. bread, biscuits, chocolate) makes the monkeys sick
  • Also, the high proportion of starchy vegetables (sweet potato, banana) and nuts is actually not natural for the animals
  • Feeding the monkeys also makes it more likely for animals that are sick or weak to survive. This makes it easier for diseases to spread and for “bad genes” to be passed on…
  • The Bukit Melawati is a rather small, limited area where relatively many monkeys live. It is questionable whether the animals would find enough food to survive there without the tourists.
  • Even in the environs of Kuala Selangor, much natural habitat has fallen victim to plantations
  • Monkeys are rather unpopular with the population, especially farmers. However, the tourists create a source of income from the animals and thus promote that they are not driven away, at least at Bukit Melawati. 

You see, there are reasons for and against this tourist attraction. Unfortunately, there are also many black sheep among the tourists who feed the monkeys with bread or harass them. Apart from that, however, the monkeys do not seem to be bothered by the humans. 

Unfortunately, some tourists unconvincingly feed bread to monkeys

Our conclusion about the monkeys at Bukit Melawati

The Selangor langurs are fascinating and gentle animals that quickly grow on you with their expressive faces.Getting so close to the animals and being able to interact with them without fences is a very special experience.

However, we would like to see a little more attention paid to the health of the animals and the interaction between humans and monkeys. A warden on the premises would be a good thing – or at least a sign prohibiting feeding bread.

Apart from the sometimes inappropriate food, the monkeys have plenty of retreats if the tourists get too silly for them. For monkey lovers, Bukit Melawati is definitely worth a visit. 

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