In Delhi, monkeys make fascinating stories. A group of them puttering around in the stately Lutyens’ Zone or being worshipped at an old Delhi temple as the ‘only living link to Hanuman’ are some favourite with the foreign channels.
For local consumption, there are the ‘monkey menace’ stories — tribes of rhesus macaque raiding homes and offices, attacking workers and residents, occasionally even causing fatalities. The city engages Langur-keepers to scare the macaques away. Monkey catchers are hired to capture and dump the troublemakers to nearby forest areas.
Last week, HT reported how a junior officer in the forest department was entrusted with the responsibility of spending Rs. 15 lakh to feed 16,356 monkeys at the Asola Bhatti wildlife sanctuary every month. No tender was floated for these purchases. Nobody checked if the food was the right kind and quantity or if it was actually fed to the monkeys.
The translocation drive to Asola was started on a Delhi high court order in 2007. The same year, the city’s deputy mayor died after falling from the balcony of his home after being attacked by monkeys. The court suggested that the forest department feed the monkeys in the sanctuary. To offset some of the expense, the HC asked civic agencies to collect food offered at temples and transport it to the forest. The department was told to plant fruit-bearing trees in the sanctuary. The food bill has doubled since and there is no information on how many fruit trees were planted in the last six years. Monkeys, however, remain a menace in most parts of the capital.
Till it was banned in 1978, India was the world’s largest exporter of monkeys for biomedical research. The ban helped protect them but what actually triggered this population boom, and the subsequent aggression in monkeys, was misplaced faith and lack of science.
Monkeys are prolific breeders. But under normal circumstances, when monkeys have to earn their meals, only the fittest survive, keeping the population under check. Thanks to the ritual of feeding monkeys on Tuesdays and Saturdays, they always have enough to eat in Delhi. Also, on these two holy days, we send signals that the monkeys have right to food. Then we don’t feed them on the rest of the days and the animals get aggressive.
Our disregard for animal science was evident from the way we captured random individuals for export and, later, for translocation. Even today, civic authorities pick up these highly social animals mindlessly. Breakdown of close-knit groups cause psychological stress. An estranged mother can be dangerous. So can be a troubled adolescent.
On the other hand, dumping city-bred monkeys into forests is only a politically correct way of killing them without getting blood on our hands. These monkeys know nothing of jungle craft. None of the releases in Kuno has been monitored but we know such monkeys try to return ‘home’.
In Asola, people living in residential settlements around the sanctuary have been complaining of monkey bites. The solution offered is to raise high walls around the sanctuary. But that would amount to creating an open-air zoo where these monkeys will starve unless fed regularly.
Sterilisation is the only effective method for reducing the numbers. But it requires targeting all females in a group, even if it is much costlier than getting only the males who are fewer in number. Otherwise, a single male that escapes sterilization can impregnate a group of females. Since sterilization requires capturing, the effort should be to catch entire groups and release monkeys back in the same area later. Like broken families, broken groups can get really nasty.