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Friday, Nov 22, 2019

Scientists pitch for a family planning ‘pill’ to control monkey menace in India

Scientists say monkeys need not be spayed or neutered. A family planning vaccine called porcine zona pellucida might be enough to curb the monkey menace in India.

india Updated: Apr 13, 2017 08:12 IST
Nihi Sharma
Nihi Sharma
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
The contraceptive programme, if cleared for use, will be the first in India.
The contraceptive programme, if cleared for use, will be the first in India.(Manoj Kumar/HT File Photo)

The answer to India’s out-of-control monkey menace could be the little pill.

Scientists with the Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India (WII) are trying to control the cheeky monkeys — not spay or neuter the animals but offer them a family planning vaccine called porcine zona pellucida that has shown its potency in America.

The contraceptive programme, if cleared for use, will be the first in India where dwindling forests have driven the highly adaptable and opportunistic monkeys towards villages and cities.

Trials are being conducted in Uttarakhand, the Himalayan state that has nearly 150,000 monkeys, according to a forest department estimate. Their numbers are growing fast, and furiously.

Neighbouring Himachal Pradesh too has monkeys on its back, and the fellow hill state tried out a catch-and-sterilise programme to little effect. The animal is declared a vermin in many districts, which wildlife lovers call a euphemism for the death sentence as the tag permits culling.

That got the scientists at WII to look for an alternative. They have been doing a pilot project on oral contraceptives in a 20 square km area of the tree-lined institute, studying monkey behaviour and food habits.

Test results have been satisfactory, and the scientists are confident that the contraceptive will keep the runaway monkey population down.

But the challenge would be to get the Central Drug Standard Control Organisation, which reports to the ministry of health and family welfare, on board.

The vaccine is not available in India and must be imported from the US. Each shot would cost at least Rs 6,000 — a sum that needs to cross multiple layers of bureaucratic turnstiles.

“There are levels of approvals needed to procure the drugs. The ministry of environment and forests has cleared the project, but we need permission from the Union drug control department to import the chemical,” senior scientist Qamar Qureshi said.

The chemical comes from pigs. It produces antibodies that prevent the sperm from attaching to the egg. The vaccine could be given to monkeys mixed with their food, or injected.

The scientists believe the contraceptive can be manufactured in the country.

“The National Institute of Immunology in New Delhi could develop the medicine,” said scientist S Sathyakumar, explaining ways to get rid of the tedious permission process and import expenses.

Until the shots are fired, monkeys will remain a menace — destroy crops and orchards in the countryside, or troop around in cities and bully everyone in their path, even dogs.