People are setting up private group chats and forums to purchase and share custom baby monkey torture videos, an investigation by animal advocacy groups Action for Primates and Lady Freethinker has found.
The two groups were initially approached by a source who obtained screenshots and videos from a private forum and later a Telegram group used by the users. Motherboard independently spoke with the source, who requested anonymity because they feared retribution from the monkey torturing forum users. Some videos from the group have been shared in private and public Facebook groups and on YouTube. Motherboard has separately viewed monkey-centric Facebook pages and groups that show videos of monkeys suffering, advertised as a content “drop.”
While some of the videos posted to Facebook are upsetting, the content on the forum (which has since been deleted by its host) and Telegram group is genuinely shocking and gruesome. Users are paying to “adopt” baby long-tailed macaques in Indonesia that are then subjected to brutal torture based on their requests. Users can choose between buying their own monkey or a “share” in one.
In one video, a monkey screeches as its finger is cut off. In another, a monkey is kicked repeatedly in the face and then waterboarded. Other videos show, among other things, monkeys being flayed, pierced, cut, beaten, and burned. Other screenshots show a baby monkey tied to a crucifix.
“You will pay the full price of the adopted monkey,” a user who appeared to be a moderator of the forum, wrote in one screenshot. “You then own that monkey and get five requests included in the adoption fee. After that, it is $20 per video request.”
“The $20 videos would of course have to exclude things like death unless the subject is at the end of its usefulness,” another comment reads. “And the cost may have to increase by increments of say 5 if death could possibly happen as a result of the buyers [sic] request.” Another post calls these “stress monkeys”: “If you could name it, make a limited number of requests for what you want done to it (with a few limits), and receive 10 exclusive videos for your own 'mini series' of your monkey with the option to have it killed in the final video, would you pay $130 for this? $150?”
The two advocacy groups claim the group pays the people who film and carry out the torture via PayPal. In a phone call with Motherboard, a PayPal spokesperson said that the platform had taken down accounts involved in 2020, but did not provide further details.
According to Action for Primates and Lady Freethinker, the disturbing ring was first coordinated through a forum on Forumotion, a free forum hosting platform. Forumotion later took down the platform late last month after it was reported by the two groups.
After being taken down, more than 30 users from the forum moved to a private Telegram group, which was also deleted after Action for Primates and Lady Freethinker went public with their findings.
Forumotion and Telegram did not respond to Motherboard’s request for comment.
Screenshots from the Telegram group show users gleefully sharing the abuse. “Here’s a little taste of what I got from tonight,” one user wrote above an image of a baby monkey crucified on a tree.
Nina Jackel, the founder of Lady Freethinker, told Motherboard that members of the Telegram group actively recruit users from YouTube and Facebook. YouTube especially consistently fails to take down videos depicting animal cruelty, she said, even after they have been reported by her and others.
“By allowing abusive channels to operate for months or even years, YouTube, Facebook, and other platforms enable animal cruelty fetishists to connect and escalate their cruel and illegal activities to sickening levels,” Jackel said. “These monkeys’ suffering is real, and it is heartbreaking. Social networks can and must do better to stop animal torture for fun and profit.”
In a screenshot of a since-deleted YouTube comment, a user writes “[o]k, I’m curious about the community now,” to which another user replies: “Excellent! I can’t post about it here. Gotta keep the Karens out. I promise it is worth it. Let me know if you see this.”
Motherboard found multiple videos still up on YouTube depicting monkey abuse. In one video, a group of men tie a monkey to a set of wooden beams and break its legs—by the end of the video it appears to be dead.
In an email to Motherboard, YouTube emphasized that animal abuse is not allowed on its platform and that it had taken down nine channels flagged by Lady Freethinker and Action for Primates.
“Content depicting violence or abuse toward animals has never been allowed on YouTube,” a spokesperson wrote. “We enforce our policies using a combination of machine learning and human review, and periodically review our policies to ensure they are current. Earlier this year, we expanded our violent and graphic policy around animal abuse content, to more clearly prohibit content featuring deliberate physical suffering or harm to animals, including content featuring animal rescue that has been staged and places the animal in harmful scenarios.”
Still, animal advocacy groups like Lady Freethinker far too many videos of animal cruelty continue to fall through the cracks. While the group has contacted US and Indonesian law enforcement, Jackel wonders if Telegram groups like this are just the tip of the iceberg. Earlier this month, a Florida veterinarian pleaded guilty to making animal abuse crush videos.
“Are there more groups of people out on the internet doing the exact same?” she said. “We just don’t know. What we do know is that platforms and law enforcement need to take action now.”