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No monkey business!

Fed up by an army of monkeys that has made life miserable in rural Uganda, a minister has come out with a simple solution: eat the animal!

entertainment Updated: Mar 27, 2006 19:44 IST

Fed up by an army of monkeys that has made life miserable in rural Uganda, a minister has come out with a simple solution: eat the animal!

Junior Agriculture Minister Israel Kibirige Sebunnya has warned that crops would be wiped out if the problem was not addressed. And he has suggested a novel solution to the problem.

"I wish we could adopt the habit of eating monkeys like they do in West Africa," junior Agriculture Minister Israel Kibirige Sebunnya said here.

From Cameroon to Senegal, monkeys are considered a delicacy. Almost everyone here has a story to tell about the menace monkeys pose.

For Kyanjo Sennyonjo, 78, the long-standing mystery of his continually disappearing dinner was solved when he found his tin-roofed home invaded by monkeys.

"For years, and bear in mind that I am a hunter, I have never seen monkeys stealing cooked food. I thought it was people taking my food," Sennyonjo said at his home at Mairikiti village, some 50 km southeast of Kampala.

The apparent comedy of the case masks a serious problem because human activities in the region further encroach on the primates' traditional habitat. Man and monkey, it seems, make poor bedfellows.

Villager after villager in the region, nestled in the forested hills on the shores of Lake Victoria in rural Uganda, recount similar tales.

The problem seems to be worsening, with the primates moving in large groups, ravaging gardens and devouring all crops in sight including potatoes, beans, maize, yams and bananas.

Villagers have begun a monkey crackdown, mounting guards on gardens, erecting scarecrows and deploying dogs, according to village elder Ibrahim Semanda.

The efforts are largely fruitless.

"When the monkeys are many, they overcome the dogs. Even with scarecrows, the monkeys try to shake their bodies and realising the objects are not real humans, they relaunch the attacks with more vigour," Semanda said.

Some islands on Lake Victoria, Africa's largest fresh water body, have more monkeys than humans.

Last year, authorities in the island district of Kalangala, an archipelago on the western side of Lake Victoria, introduced a scheme whereby anyone who brings in a monkey's tail receives a reward of 1,000 shillings (about 50 cents).

Bulegeya Komayombo, director for crop protection in the agriculture ministry, however, adopts a more conciliatory approach.

He said that a softer approach like smearing cow dung - detested by the monkeys - on crops like maize is being encouraged.

"Monkeys are a menace, a nuisance. You can lose up to 30 percent of the maize crop to monkeys. There is also labour loss as children and adults spend hours guarding the gardens," Komayombi said.

Officials from the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) maintain that it is humans not monkeys who are responsible for the problem, arguing that people invaded the habitat of the monkeys by destroying and occupying the forests.

"We have never done a monkey census in the country but they are very, very many. In the Bugala island (on Lake Victoria), the population of monkeys is larger than that of humans. This is because this area was originally occupied only by monkeys and other animals but government gave out five forests to people and the people and monkeys are competing for space," UWA spokesman Lillian Nsubuga said.

"Humans do not take account of their activities. They have destroyed the forests that were home to the monkeys and set up farms and settlements. The best monkeys have to do is live on the little left for them or attack humans," she said.