Capital conflict: Monkey squads take on simian challenge

New Delhi, Gunjan Upadhyaya, 27, still remembers his "fist fight" a few years ago with a monkey that had snatched his bananas. "Of course, I lost and in the process got bit as well," he recollects. The Indian capital has always faced
a monkey menace which has even led the government to hire 'hitmen' and langurs, a long-tailed simian breed that is hostile to rhesus monkeys, to scare away the marauders that are now threatening government offices and even the police headquarters.

About 40 men men dressed as langurs had been hired by the government to drive away monkeys after realising that they cannot be stopped from spreading panic inside even the venerable Parliament House.

These trained men hired by the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) are armed with rubber bullet guns to drive away the monkeys who fear their distant relatives.

The workers, who are paid close to Rs.600 per day, also imitate the hooting cry of langurs to frighten the monkeys away.

However, it is not only the parliament and other government offices and corridors of power that are facing a monkey menace.

Rajesh Kumar, a worker at the Delhi Police headquarters cafetaria on the first floor of the building in central Delhi, told IANS that the daring simians have created a
panic in the building as well, and often come through the windows looking for food.

"We keep the windows shut at all times fearing that the monkeys loitering in the premises will enter the canteen and not only create panic, but also take away the food," he said.

"I have seen monkeys sometimes trying to take the food away and also attempt to open the refrigerator," he added.

Rajesh Kumar also shared that visitors to the canteen get scared by the presence of the monkeys, and in an attempt to scare them away, a real-life langur handled by his master is often brought to the headquarters for a few hours.

Several other police stations across the city like Lodi Colony, Connaught Place and Uttam Nagar also face a monkey menace.

Geeta Thakur, who works in Connaught Place area, said that she fears walking to her office as she often has to face "scary" monkeys waiting to "pounce" on her.

"But I cannot avoid their presence, as the route I take is the shorter one. I often encounter monkeys on the way who seem to be waiting for me to come so that they can snatch my lunch bag away," she said.

Thakur went on to blame those who start feeding monkeys on the roads - monkeys are revered creatures in Hindu mythology - and said that such people should be fined.

Though the city has always struggled with monkey troupes that leap effortlessly from roof to roof and can often be seen on bridges and near temples, the issue once again gained prominence after the government hired men to drive the simians away from parliament and adjoining areas.

NDMC chairman Jalaj Shrivastava told IANS: "The problem has always been there but the media has woken up now taking the minister's statement seriously. However, I do agree that the drive against monkeys needs to be a cross-city one to actually fight the menace."

Urban Development Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu had informed parliament July 31 that the NDMC has hired 40 young people to chase the monkeys creating panic in the
government buildings.

Shrivastava, however, passed the buck to other city authorities to counter the simian challenge. "It should be a cross-city drive (to drive away the monkeys)," he

Manilal Valliyate, director of veterinary affairs, PETA India, told IANS that as cities grow and intrude into forest areas, monkeys are losing their natural habitat and venturing into urban areas, where people feed them. They also have open access to food and food waste near restaurants and market areas.

He said PETA has advised the city's civic bodies to use noise-makers and air horns as an effective, economical, risk-free and humane way to keep the primates away.

The civic agencies should also ban open food waste bins in markets and residential areas and people should be encouraged to put up wire meshes or grills to prevent
the entry of monkeys into their houses, he said.

"Since the human sprawl and encroachments have caused the problem, taking away the monkeys land and food, humans must be maximally humane about the situation by
controlling the monkey population by adopting lawful, rational, scientific, and humane methods, and not permitting any lethal measures," Valliyate said.

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