Commuters, especially pilgrims moving towards the Vaishno Devi shrine, feeding monkeys on the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway are endangering the lives of the primates, say wildlife officials.
Officials say that in spite of efforts made by the state wildlife department to educate pilgrims and motorists passing through the protected Nandini area, dozens of monkeys are killed on the Jammu-Katra road.
According to information, nearly 40,000 pilgrims travel on the highway daily to reach the Katra base camp. Large groups of monkeys can be spotted on this route, waiting on the roadside for people in the passing vehicles to throw eatables for them.
A majority of commuters, travelling in private vehicles or on board public transport buses, offer bread, bananas and other eatables, including chana (chickpea), to the simian population. While some animals manage to pick up the food and reunite with their group on the roadside safely, many are not as lucky.
Apart from the animals getting crushed under the wheels of the over-speeding vehicles, the number of accidents also goes up during the peak tourist season.
Nandi resident Jagdish Raj said the locals and the pilgrims visiting the Vaishno Devi shrine considered it their "divine duty" to feed the monkeys. "For this, they stop their vehicles in the middle of the road, putting these animals at risk," he added.
A wildlife official said, "Earlier, monkeys used to live in forests and feed like other animals, but now they have taken to the roads because we have changed their natural eating habits. They not only fall prey to the vehicles, but also cause accidents."
Officials said in spite of running an awareness campaign on broadcast media and putting up billboards on both sides of the highway, the menace has not been checked as people continue to feed the monkeys.
"We need to generate more awareness among travellers to protect the monkeys," they said.