By: Kunaal Chauhan
If you cry out the word ‘monkey’ in front of any kid from Shimla, you would definitely get a scared and nervy retort. Such has been the annoyance and fright of the intimidating primates that people would rather tend to change the path from where they are walking, in case they see a herd nearby, than try to scare them away.
What makes them so different from the other stray animals that you find on the
Indian streets (dogs, cattle, rodents), is their aggressiveness and intelligence. Quite similar to us in many ways, their adaptability and ability to live off human refuse has made them a cause of concern for the human population living in the urban or rural areas alike.
Getting rid of these pesky simians has been a long drawn political agenda in the capital city. Solutions such as mass extradition to uninhabited areas or sterilization have been carried out. But how much these solutions have actually solved the problem, is a debatable topic. It is obvious that deporting them to secluded areas helps, but this species is known to travel long distances in search of food, a result of their intelligent and highly developed brain. Sterilization also helps, but finding the males and sterilizing them individually is a massive task in itself, plus also the infrastructure of our country makes it a burden on the economy. As per the Wildlife Institution of India, until 70 per cent of any species is sterilized, the population of the species cannot be controlled. Plus there is also the debate, which many wildlife conservationists put up, that this is ‘unethical’, and we are going against the law of nature.
Then is mass eradication of the species the solution? Again the answer is debatable. Isn’t that what we do to mosquitoes or other pests that trouble us. Even mosquitoes have a contribution to the overall life cycle of the planet. Why would killing the excess monkeys be a problem then?
Yes, in the wild the monkeys serve a amazing purpose, i.e. they eat the seeds of some plant, then, afterwards, through their faeces the seeds get a new and different germinating ground. But in the urban areas, where these “Rhesus Macaques” have found a safe breeding ground, even that purpose is not served.
Time and time again, due to pestilence of monkeys in the rural areas, the government has allowed controlled killing of the primates, but that has led to contradictory reactions from wildlife lovers and the wildlife protecting agencies namely Mrs Maneka Gandhi-founded PETA. And being a wildlife lover and also having an agricultural background, I myself, am caught in the dilemma, of killing the monkey, or protecting my crop.
Initially, my father, Mr Chander Chauhan, who has his agricultural land in Kotkhai, Shimla, used fireworks to scare the monkeys away, but as these primates are equally intelligent, over a period of time they got used to the drill, and would hardly react to the explosions. Then he tried his trained canines to scare the monkeys away. But the inability of the dogs to climb trees was a hindrance. And also the aggression of the monkeys is as such than rather than eating the fruit from the trees, they tend to climb on the trees and shake the branches, which leads to dropping of the fruit. So overall they cause much more harm than any other fruit-eating animals. Same would be the case for other farmers as well. So what does the farmer do, apart from killing the monkeys? Yes, some scientists do suggest the use of infrasonic sound waves to keep the monkeys away, but the practicality of the idea is yet to be proved, plus it requires a hefty investment.
The Himachal Pradesh government has spent nearly 20 crore rupees, in order to stop the ‘monkey menace’. But we all know the problem is far from being solved. I personally don’t see any improvement in the situation. So what steps can be taken in this context.
There are two very practical and efficient ways to reduce the simian population. One is to develop enclosed captivity areas for monkeys; that way they are not subjected to any cruelty, and for once the nuisance and menace of the simians can also be ended.
Second is to restart exporting of monkeys to places like Puerto Rico, which was in practice before 1978, for the purpose of lab testing. It was again stopped due to complain by Mrs Gandhi.
And last but definitely not the least, we the citizens of the state need to stop feeding the simians and also need to make sure that they do not get access to any dump or refuse. Once the monkeys will get less food, hence their chances of survival in the urban areas will be less and that will lead to a direct reduction in the population.