On October 6, Laxman Tulsiani, a gold dealer, and Veera, a caretaker, were examining a construction site in Agra city in north India’s Uttar Pradesh (UP) state. A massive monkey brawl broke out at the property, resulting in a wall collapsing on the two men. Laxman and Veera died at a nearby hospital.
In July this year, a family sleeping in their courtyard were crushed to death after the wall beside them was “violently shaken” by a troop of brawling monkeys in UP’s Shahjahanpur district.
With a monkey population of more than 50 million, there have been at least 13 deaths caused by monkey attacks across India since 2015. More than 1,000 cases of monkey bites are reported every day in Indian cities, according to a government run primate research centre.
“India has been facing a monkey menace since the late 80’s. Before that, humans and primates peacefully co-existed without such conflicts,” Dr Iqbal Malik, a primatologist, with 40 years of experience in studying monkey species in India, told VICE News.
Dr Malik points to a variety of reasons behind the deteriorating relationship between humans and primates. “Lack of population control of both humans and monkeys, depletion of forest areas which could have been habitats for monkeys, and shift to monoculture farming has led to increased rivalry and aggression amongst monkeys.”
“This aggression then carries on to humans, especially in cases when the land inhabited by monkeys is usurped by the authorities.”
Between 2002 and 2018, India lost 310,624 hectares of forest cover due to deforestation and industrialisation.
Depending on the scale and nature of damage, state governments have come up with various ideas to tackle the issue. In the national capital, Delhi, the government has been relocating monkeys to a wildlife sanctuary. There have also been efforts to shift monkeys from Delhi to forests in neighbouring states.
In 2016, the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh declared monkeys as vermin, allowing people to kill them. In 2019, Uttarakhand state followed suit. In east India’s Bihar state, farmers have tried to persuade local politicians to contain attacks of monkeys on crops.
In India, people’s cultural beliefs impact the way they treat monkeys. Hanuman (also called Bajrangbali), the monkey deity, is one of the most popular gods in Hindu mythology.
“People call me to relocate monkeys in urban areas, but I can’t bear to see them caged. After all, they are our lord Bajrangbali,” Ravi Kumar, a monkey chaser in Delhi, told VICE News. Kumar, who chases monkeys by imitating their sound, describes himself as a “security guard for monkeys”.
Yogesh Gokhale, a Delhi-based botanical researcher with expertise in natural resource management, told VICE News, “In my housing society, we have a serious monkey menace, but people continue to feed these animals because they look at them as a religious symbol,” he said.
The role of local civic bodies is crucial in dealing with man-animal conflict. “In urban spaces, monkeys are usually found in places where food waste is not disposed properly,” said Khushboo Gupta, the chief advocacy officer for PETA India.
“The solution lies in town planning including forest protection, keeping bins covered and regular garbage collection.”
Last year, scientists in Delhi discussed using Immunocontraception to keep the population of monkeys in check. However, activists argue, this could potentially worsen the menace. “Sterilisation of monkeys is not an ideal first solution, as the capture process can upset and disturb them,” said Gupta.
She stressed that while sterilization is a scientific method of population control, it is our humane responsibility to look at other means to curb the menace.
“The solution is to create monkey homes or shelters in urban areas with natural greenery that allows monkeys to forage for their food,” said Dr Malik.
“The monkeys are not the problem,” said Gupta. “Humans, who have created the circumstance that forces these animals into cities, are.”
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