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Monkeys entering human habitations

Monkeys entering human habitations
Monkeys are our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, and we have always peacefully coexisted and benefitted from each other. In fact, they are the second largest population in primates, after humans. But this relationship seems to have gone sour over the years.

The reason is because monkeys, along with Grey langurs and bonnet macaques, have adapted to urban habitats over the years, says Gautam Sharma, a faculty member with the animal behaviour unit under the Department of Zoology, Jai Narain Vyas University, Jodhpur. “Out of the nearly 225 living species of non-human primates, these three species have adapted to the urban way of life,” he says.

As monkeys started staying with humans, their population boomed. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists Rhesus macaque under the red category of species that are least threatened. Experts say the reason the population of monkeys has multiplied after their natural habitat was destroyed is because of their ability to adapt to new habitats. “Macaques quickly discover new food and water sources in their environment,” says Sri Lanka-based primatologist Wolfgang Dittus in his study of Toque macaques, a close relative of Rhesus macaques or the common monkey. Dittus was part of a 12-member expert team that was set up in 2005 by the Indian government to formulate guidelines to contain monkeys effectively.

“In forests, a Rhesus macaque has to spend about 10 to 14 hours in search of food. However, if we look at the street-dwelling urban monkeys or even those living dangerously close to human settlements in a rural setting, finding food takes only 10 minutes,” says Satish Sood, who heads one of the state-run sterilisation centres for monkeys in Himachal Pradesh. “When there is food in abundance, monkeys spend more time procreating,” he says.

Experts also say that the proximity to villages and cities has increased their life expectancy. “In their native forest homes, their numbers are kept in check by a limited supply of natural forest foods and water. Rates of death are high among wild primates, with up to 80 percent dying before adulthood, offsetting birthrates,” says Dittus.

Besides the behavioural shift in monkeys, the other reason for their moving to new geographical areas is the government’s practice of translocating monkeys from the cities to forest areas near rural areas. Residents of <g data-gr-id="50">Chaukha</g> village, which is at an altitude of 2,072 metres above sea level, say monkeys were brought to the forests from Shimla and Mandi. “Monkeys are never found at such high altitudes. But the government forcefully dumped the animals in our forests,” says Verma.

Even Delhi’s attempt to translocate monkeys has backfired. In 2007, the state wildlife department captured over 19,000 monkeys to translocate them to a wildlife sanctuary created at Asola Bhatti mines on the outskirts of the city. While New Delhi breathed a temporary sigh of relief by the move, the residents of Sanjay Colony near the sanctuary struggled. The illegal colony of the Od community, who for three decades mined Bhatti area of the Aravalli hills registered an alarmingly high number of attacks by monkeys who would escape the sanctuary. “Every day, we have 10 to 11 cases of monkey bites,” says 55-year-old <g data-gr-id="54">Seeto</g> Od. She adds that they are harassed by the forest officials if they try to chase off the monkeys. Not just the people of the colony, even the monkeys are struggling. A member of the committee set up to oversee the translocation complained of irregularities in the feeding of the monkeys at the sanctuary. In 2014, the Delhi High Court issued a notice to the Delhi government asking it to ensure sufficient food was available for the captive monkeys. On February 19, 2015, the court ordered the government to issue e-tenders to find a new contractor to supply food at the sanctuary. 

(The views expressed are personal)

Anupam Chakravartty

Anupam Chakravartty

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