Monkeys have become a major menace in several states in India. From Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh in the north, to Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh in the south, farmers face huge crop losses due to attacks by monkey menace. Several cities, such as Varanasi, Hardwar, Chandigarh, and New Delhi find mention in monkey attack related stories. In many places langurs have had been ‘employed’ to chase away monkeys from government offices, schools and hospitals. Rooftops and terraces in many localities are their haunt; in others, residents virtually imprison themselves to avoid being bitten or attacked.
Genesis of the Monkey Problem
In the 1950s, monkeys were trapped to be exported in great numbers for research. More than 80 per cent were sent to the US for work related to the polio (Salk) vaccine (New York Times, 1955). Following concerns of monkeys being tortured for nuclear experiments, the government disallowed free exports, and announced that export would resume when it was convinced that the monkeys would be used only for medical research, and receive humane treatment. Subsequently, it was decided that monkeys above 6 pounds in weight would be exported, since only they were useful enough for medical research (New York Times, 1958).
However, monkeys continued to be trapped, if not for export, then for indigenous medical research. According to Iqbal Malik, Primatologist, Founder Director Vatavaran, trapping of wild monkeys is the root cause of the monkey menace in urban India. “Monkeys live in groups in the wild. When they were trapped for export the group would scatter; and hence the remaining ones in twos and threes would roam in a bigger area. The exports eventually stopped, but the experiments continued within India. The breaking of groups continued. This saw the monkeys enter urban areas.”
The other problem, she points out, is that no sanctuary ever had a monkey-proof fence. “The monkeys, hence, moved out into the urban peripheries of sanctuaries. And this was the genesis of the monkey menace.”
Initially shy and wary of humans, since they encountered them solely as trappers and hunters, monkeys quickly adapted to urban surroundings. Besides, when they came to the city, they encountered the benevolent human. “People revere them and want to feed them”, Malik points out.
A monkey is at his persuasive best when provisioning for food. A study on the human-macaque conflict covering China, Indonesia and India confirms this (Beisner, Tyagi et. al., 2015). Besides, the researchers found, it was humans who initiated the interaction with monkeys two to five times more than the other way round. The eventual aggression, too, the study found, developed because such behaviour, was frequently ‘rewarded’ at temples, picnics and the like with food. Once monkeys take to demanding food, they soon graduate to stealing it. Failing to get food, they are known to attack.
In monkey menace, Monkeys raid homes and offices and end up tearing precious documents and damaging furniture. This is when India’s traditionally ‘revered’ monkeys become pests. In the 1990s, when monkey menace became a huge menace in Delhi, langurs came to be used to drive monkeys off government buildings, schools and hospitals, with ‘langurwalas’ growing in demand. There were other methods used too; such as the use of darts, sticks and rubber bullets to scare the simians away. But these are only effective up to a point. Very soon, the monkeys would be back.(Christian Science Monitor, 1982).
Many believe that the easily available food in cities is making monkeys lazier, and driving up their populations. But Malik differs—“As for their numbers, they are seen more now. This is because of the wrong management policies followed by the government, for the past 20 years. When langurs were called to drive away the monkeys, they caused the chaotic fissioning of monkey menace groups. The groups broke up, and were made to run from place to place. This caused them to thinly spread all over Delhi.”
To be fair to the government, a slew of measures were taken to trap and shift the monkeys out of the city, into Asola-Bhatti. However, the ploy failed. Today, the villagers in Bhatti bear the brunt of monkey menace—bruises, bites and cuts by monkeys are commonplace.
Malik blames the government for their short-sightedness and bureaucratic bungle. “In the 1990s, I had approached the government and suggested the idea of a monkey sanctuary. I had suggested Asola-Bhatti, since this is the only man-made sanctuary in India. I offered my expertise for building the required infrastructure with monkey-proof fencing. To prevent monkeys from climbing out, I had suggested a straight fibre-glass wall, 15 feet high, curving inwards, with no trees on either side of the wall, to prevent the monkeys from swinging out. Inside, there were to be fruit trees that the monkeys love. Instead, they took them to a barren land on the Bhatti side, instead of the greenery at Asola. They built a concrete platform for feeding the monkeys, laying the foundations for corruption. As for the wall, what they did was use strips of fibre-glass joined with iron bars; the monkeys use it as stairs to climb up the wall into the village.”
Fifteen years since the monkeys were confined to Bhati, there has been no nursery to grow trees. The monkeys continue to roam in and out at will, and have even come back to the city. On the other hand, langurs have been banned from being used for driving off monkeys since a Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change (MoEF&CC) circular issued in 2013 (The Times of India, 2013).
Even while cities as Guwahati, Rishikesh, Jammu and Delhi battle on with the monkey menace, farmers in several states keep watch over their crops to avoid losing them to monkeys. Peoples’ protests block highways in Uttarakhand (The Times of India, 2016) over government inaction, and talks of a long-term solution to solve the monkey menace has commenced.
The Uttarakhand government is currently working on an oral contraceptive (The Times of India, 2016)—Porcine zona Pellucida which will be added to food to render monkeys temporarily infertile. However, P C Tyagi, in charge of the project at the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, tells G’nY “We are still at the proposal stage. It has a long way to go”.
Himachal Pradesh which has seen a spurt in the monkey population and is losing crores worth of its crops to the monkey menace is offering INR 500-700 for catching a monkey and INR 1000 for killing one (Indian Express, 2016).
Telangana though has embarked on the most scientific solution to its monkey menace. Its rescue and rehabilitation centre in Chincholi is part of a wider project for which the government has sanctioned INR 10 crore. In the first phase, hundreds of iron cages and sterilisation equipment will be set up at the centre. Monkeys that are caught from towns and villages will be brought to the centre, sterilised and released in the deep forests. Veterinarians will be present at the centre and the forest department is consulting specialists from Argentina and Brazil where the monkey menace was contained with scientific methods.
The afforestation scheme of Telangana, Haritha Haram, is a INR 50-crore project to plant hundreds of acres of fruit orchards along with timber and fodder to increase the forest cover from the present 24 per cent of the state to 33 per cent in two years. The Telangana government believes that with their food sources replenished, monkeys will stay within these orchards and forested land and won’t enter human habitations (Scroll, 2016).
Be that as it may, until a contraceptive takes shape, it is time we pondered on trying to reversing some of the damage already done. Monkeys, as animal rights activists argue, have entered urban settlements because of human encroachment on forest land, deforestation, disappearance of fruit trees and natural vegetation, and the spread of monoculture plantations. Afforestation on degraded lands, planting fruit and shade trees, and clearing up encroachments, to the extent possible, could perhaps stem the tide and let monkeys return to their natural habitat.
Brianne B., P. C. Tyagi et al. 2015. Human–Wildlife Conflict-Proximate Predictors of Aggression Between Humans and Rhesus Macaques in India. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 156 (2):286-94.
Christian Science Monitor, March 8, 1982. Monkey Business. Available at: https://goo.gl/EpbzKd.
Hindustan Times. 2016. Monkey Menace to Increase, as Corporations Get Ready to Chuck Responsibility. Available at: https://goo.gl/yI3XY7.
Indian Express. 2016. Catch or Kill, Get uptoRs 1,000 Per Monkey in Himachal Pradesh. Available at: https://goo.gl/rZHMNU.
Malik et al. 1984. Population Growth of Free-Ranging Rhesus Monkeys at Tughlaqabad, American Journal of Primatology, 7 (4)
New York Times. 1955, India Cuts Export of Some Monkeys. Available at: https://goo.gl/jDbXYE.
New York Times. 1958. Red Tape Tangles India’s Monkeys. Available at: https://goo.gl/mX65il.
Times of India. 2016. People’s Anger Over Monkey Menace in GarhwalSpills on Highway, HC Asks State Govt to Reply in 10 Days. Available at: https://goo.gl/SqK6p1.
Times of India. August 4, 2016. To Curb Menace, Uttarakhand Puts its Monkeys on the Pill. Available at: https://goo.gl/t9aYVo.