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Simian trouble

Sanctuary short-staffed, monkeys stray into nearby areas and attack people, reports Avishek G Dastidar.
Hindustan Times | By Avishek G Dastidar, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAR 13, 2008 12:41 AM IST

The Asola monkey sanctuary, supposed to be the final and a humane solution to Delhi's decades long “monkey menace”, completes one year this month amid a number of glaring deficiencies.

For one, after spending Rs 1.43 crore of public money, the fencing work — by the Forest Department — is in a limbo. After constructing only 1.5 km of fibre-sheet fence, it realised that the design was ineffective to contain monkeys and stopped work midway.

As a result, monkeys have been straying out to the adjacent settlements of Sanjay Nagar and occasionally biting people, including children. Now, to assuage angry villagers, the department has gone back to the age-old tactic of tackling simian wrath: it has rented two langurs to ward off wayward monkeys, sources confirmed.

In addition, the sanctuary — which currently has 5,288 monkeys brought in at a high cost of trapping and transportation (the MCD pays Rs 450 for each monkey caught) — is yet to have any medical care facility for the animals.

Last week, this crucial oversight claimed one life when, after sustaining injuries due to infighting, a monkey died on its way to medical care. For any medical assistance, animals are "rushed" to treatment facility of NGO Frendicoes in Defence Colony, more than 20 km away from Asola. Even to carry the animals to medical aid, the sanctuary depends on the NGO sector. The death occurred inside the ambulance owned by Frendicoes.

“There is a need to establish a medical facility since the sanctuary is brimming with animals, and owing to its location, there is no medical care centre nearby,” said Geeta Seshmani, head of Frendicoes.

The absence of medical care and even a veterinary ambulance of its own are not the only things this novel sanctuary lacks. At any given point, there are only seven officials attending to the large population of monkeys there.

“The sanctuary is short-staffed, but then manpower augmentation does not happen easily in government facilities,” said a Forest Department official.

Chief Conservator of Forests DM Shukla did not respond to repeated queries, but senior officials at the Forest Department Headquarters said on the condition of anonymity that for a long time now the department was mulling over establishing an animal medical care centre at Asola. “It takes time to create posts of a new veterinary doctor and his medical staff. We are trying,” said a senior official.

“Despite everything, the Asola model of primate sanctuary for stray monkeys is a success. It is a humane and scientific solution,” said animal activist Sonya Ghosh, member of the High Court-appointed Enforcement Committee, which is overseeing the monkey relocation project. “The monkeys are on excellent diet and have adapted well to the natural habitat,” she said.

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