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In Himachal Pradesh, why monkeys are nobody’s business

After the government’s sterilisation and relocation drives came to a sputtering stop, monkeys are back in the firing line.

india Updated: Sep 07, 2018 11:20 IST
Gaurav Bisht
Gaurav Bisht
Hindustan Times, Shimla
Himachal Pradesh,monkeys

Monkeys are having a field day in Himachal Pradesh, leaving farmers and the state wildlife wing at their wits’ end. Two years after they were declared vermin for destroying crops and posing a risk to humans, the government is still grappling for a solution with farmers reluctant to kill monkeys for religious reasons. After the government’s sterilisation and relocation drives came to a sputtering stop, monkeys are back in the firing line. The wildlife wing has re-initiated its 2016 campaign, asking farmers to pull the trigger but the peasants accuse the government of firing from their shoulder instead of taking aim itself. Experts suggest a holistic and time-bound approach.

Extent of problem

Monkeys are a menace in 12 districts of the state, barring the tribal Kinnaur and Lahaul and Spiti. Of the 17,794 villages in the state, 2,300 are badly hit. The agriculture department reported a crop loss of Rs 184.28 crore due to wild animals, particularly monkeys, last year. Farmers growing horticulture crops suffered a loss of Rs 150 crore.

Man-animal conflict

Monkeys have turned aggressive not only in fields but also attack humans in towns, mostly tourist places. Since 2004, monkeys attacked 2,315 people in the state. Most of the attacks were reported from state capital Shimla, where the forest department set up a patrol to keep monkeys away from public places.

Vermin and after

In 2016, the state government urged the Union ministry of environment and forests to declare monkeys vermin in Shimla. The Centre notified them as vermin in Shimla on March 14 that year. Two months later, they were declared vermin in 38 tehsils of the state.

Vermin are wild mammals and birds that are harmful to crops, farm animals or that carry disease. This allows state forest authorities and people to carry out extermination (hunting/poaching) of monkeys on a large scale. The permission for killing monkeys was renewed in December 2017 and the notification will expire this year-end.

Why no culling

In 2016, the Himachal government announced an incentive of Rs 700 for each monkey killed or caught yet not a single one has been culled in Shimla town. Only five monkeys were culled in two years -- four by a farmer in Sangrah in Sirmaur district and one at Kunihar in Solan district.

“People are still reluctant to kill monkeys. We are again initiating the campaign to encourage farmers to resort to culling,” says Tarun Kapoor, an additional chief secretary in the forest department.

Most people cite religious reasons. In Hindu mythology, it is believed that Lord Hanuman led the army of vanaras or monkeys to Lanka to rescue Sita. They are venerated as Hanuman’s followers and allowed to be despite posing a risk to visitors at public spaces, particularly temples.

What farmers want

Farmers say the government should set up a task force to kill the monkeys. “Does the forest department expect people to patrol the streets of Shimla with guns?” says Himachal Kisan Sabha president Kuldeep Singh Tanwar, who is also a retired Indian Forest Service officer. “There are 65,000 gun licence holders in the state. They are from affluent families. Most farmers can’t afford to buy guns,” he says.

Plans that backfired

The forest department initiated a drive to relocate monkeys from urban to forest areas in 2004. But it found other monkeys filled the areas emptied.

The wildlife wing set up sterilisation centres at eight locations, including Tuttikandi in Shimla, Sastar in Hamirpur, Boul in Una, Poanta Sahib in Sirmaur, Sarol in Chamba, Sappar in Mandi, and Ispur in Una. One such centre is proposed at Kani Nalah in Kotgarh. The wildlife department has spent Rs 21 crore on the sterilisation drive since 2006.

The government also started a scheme to give subsidy to farmers for solar-powered fencing of farms. It found few takers.

A primate park was set up in Shimla’s Tara Devi area but the experiment proved a failure as the simians made their way to nearby villages.

What experts suggest

Experts say the monkey menace is a multi-dimensional problem and there is no single solution. “A holistic approach is needed. The forest department has to work on sterilisation with the help of the local community,” says Dr Sindhu Radhakrishna of the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru. Local residents should be trained in catching monkeys for sterilisation. “We need publicity and awareness campaigns,” she adds.

First Published: Sep 07, 2018 11:16 IST