- The Washington Times - Friday, June 3, 2005

CALCUTTA — Armed with traps and stun guns, hundreds of wildlife specialists and local government officials will begin a major drive in two Indian states next month to capture thousands of monkeys so the males can be sterilized and some of the prowling primates can be relocated to new rehabilitation centers at the edges of forests.

For ages, monkeys have been worshipped by the country’s Hindu majority as living incarnations of Hanuman, the monkey-god.

But monkeys have recently earned a bad name in India for their increasing attacks on people, among other nuisances. In Shimla, a city in Himachal Pradesh state popular with tourists in the summer, more than 50 people were bitten or clawed by aggressive monkeys last year.

In Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh state, and in other temple towns across the state, many residents and pilgrims were attacked by monkeys. Monkeys are also accused of snatching handbags from tourists, destroying crops, stealing food from homes, medicine from hospitals and even files from government offices.

Hyderabad police officer N.V. Raja told a television interviewer: “Women and children, when alone, are easy targets for mischievous monkeys. Rampaging monkeys have caused automobile crashes recently. Not just a nuisance, they are now a public menace.”

Since killing monkeys would not be acceptable to people in Hindu India, the authorities in some states have chosen to reduce the simian population by sterilization.

It is known that neutering male primates is more effective than sterilizing females, so the two states are going to catch only male monkeys by trapping them with nets or cages, using bananas and other fruit as bait. If nets and cages don’t work, stun guns are to be used, said Chief Veterinary Officer K. Venkateswara Reddy of the municipal corporation of Hyderabad.

While Himachal Pradesh doesn’t have any immediate plan to send sterilized monkeys anywhere for rehabilitation, the Andhra Pradesh wildlife authority will relocate most of the castrated monkeys to the two simian rehabilitation centers in the state. Each has fruit plants like banana, papaya, guava, pomegranate and grape for the inmates. To treat emergency medical cases, a medical clinic is also to be attached to each of the rehabilitation centers soon.

A few years ago, authorities in Himachal Pradesh decided to sterilize male monkeys to curb their increasing mischief, but the plan was canceled after wildlife experts pointed out that no sterilization program could be fruitful without proper rehabilitation centers for the monkeys.

S.K. Das, the top wildlife official in Andhra Pradesh, said that if the $1.94 million project of sterilizing and rehabilitating an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 monkeys in two rehabilitation centers is successful, funds would be allocated to create six more primate rehabilitation centers in Andhra Pradesh because at least 20,000 monkeys in the state are in urgent need of care.

“Degradation of the forest area is the main reason why monkeys are getting closer to human settlements. We trapped and relocated more than 2,000 monkeys from cities to the forests in the last few years, but nearly all returned to the cities for lack of water, vegetation and fruits in the jungle,” said Mr. Das.

“I think this time, the [captured and sterilized] monkeys will not leave our rehab centers where they will have plenty of food and water in a natural ambience.”

New Delhi, India’s capital, has not been spared depradations by monkeys that attack government offices and businesses. In New Delhi, in the hands of some trainers, there are about a dozen monkeys who are regularly hired to keep the mischievous monkeys at bay. The large-bodied langurs scare away the mostly small-sized rhesus monkeys very easily.

According to a survey done by an Indo-U.S. project in Himachal Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh there are more than 700,000 monkeys and 80 percent of them live in cities, towns and villages far outside the forested areas.

In India red-faced rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) and black-faced langurs (Semnopithecus entellus) are found almost everywhere and their present population could be anywhere between four million and five million.

In 1977, India placed a ban on export of monkeys after one Indian weekly published a report on gruesome radiation experiments on monkeys in U.S. laboratories. Before the ban the United States imported as many as 100,000 rhesus monkeys from India every year.

The increasing attacks by monkeys on humans, animal rights activists say, are not attributable to the rising population of the monkeys. “It is the growing human population which is to blame,” said Shahensha Jahangir, an animal rights activist in Calcutta.

“We have encroached on their homelands, robbed their food and water. Their forests are under threat. It is natural that they will come to human settlements seeking food.”

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