Vrindavan, 2017.09.11 (VT): On Sunday, a resident of Vrindavan’s Pani Ghat was killed by monkeys. Nathuni Yadav, a devotee resident of the Radha Govinda Kutir ashram was taking prasad up to his rooftop room when a gang of monkeys attacked him and caused him to fall off the roof. This is the second monkey-related death reported in this month alone.
Unfortunately, these are not isolated incidents. Around a dozen people have been killed by monkeys in Vrindavan over the last few years, and many others were seriously injured. Monkey-related deaths have occurred in Moti Jheel, Govind Baag, Athkhambha, Gautam Para, Kalidah and Ratan Chhatri.
This March, an 80-year-old Russian woman was pushed to her death by monkeys from the “Russian building”. And on May 14th, a young Bengali woman barely escaped with her life after a monkey attack at Brahmakund. Her treatment is ongoing.
Perhaps even more shocking, in the summer of 2016 a group of monkeys tried to snatch a baby from its mother at Gaur Nagar. This not only injured the baby, but also gave serious wounds to the mother. Both were hospitalized.
A 2014 government survey found that in the previous year, 1,204 people had been injured by Vrindavan’s monkeys. Local hospitals reported receiving about fifteen patients every day with injuries caused by monkeys.
Unfortunately, despite the pleas of locals and an order from the Allahabad High Court earlier this year, nothing has yet been done to address the monkey issue.
Rapid Reproduction of Vrindavan Monkeys
According to official reports, there are about 60,000 monkeys in Vrindavan today. Four years ago there were only 40,000.
According to the National Primate Research Center at the University of Wisconsin, female rhesus macaques (the type of monkey which lives in Vrindavan) reproduce from age three to twenty. The gestation peroid is 164 days, with a gap of 12 to 24 months between births.
If, for example, a female monkey gives birth once every 20 months, she may give birth to ten infants in the 17 years she is able to reproduce. Each one of her female offspring, the offspring of her offspring, and so forth will give birth at a similar rate, starting at the age of three. If there are sixty thousand monkeys in Vrindavan now, how many will there be seventeen years from now, if nothing is done to slow the growth of their population?
Is Relocation an Option?
Relocation of Vrindavan’s monkeys to a forested area may appear to be an attractive option. However, the following concerns may undermine the merit of such an idea.
- The monkeys of Vrindavan have been urbanised. They depend on the leftovers of humans for food, and it is questionable how well they could survive in a more natural setting.
- The monkeys are quite agressive, and are likely to fight with monkeys who already live in the relocation area.
- Female monkeys are very attached to their family units, called troops, which live their entire lives together. If any troop members are lost in the relocation process, it may cause them undue distress.
- Due to mass deforestation, there are not many wild areas left to which the monkeys can be relocated.
Residents of the village Radhakund have reported that an unidentified group or individual has already relocated several truckloads of Vrindavan’s monkeys to their village. The result has not been positive. Locals say the village monkeys are quite peaceful compared to the agressive urbanized monkeys. The relocated monkeys fight viciously with the local monkeys, and have also begun to attack the residents of Radhakund.
According to the Forest Department of Himachal Pradesh, “…relocating monkeys into the territory of existing troops leads to territorial fights that result in the death of those “relocated” and serious injury or even death to members of the resident troop. Another important aspect of this close society is the bond that exists between the troop members. This bond reflects the close bond of human families and friends and the loss of a close troop member can be as devastating to them as a loss of one of our friends or family members.”
Sterilisation: A Humane Solution
The Himachal Pradesh Forest Department runs a successful monkey sterilization program on the premise that by slowing the reproduction rates of the monkeys, their population can be drastically reduced. Approximately 50% of the monkey population in Himachal Pradesh has been sterlizied since the program’s inception in 2006.
If ever there was a project the Government of India should wholeheartedly support and be proud of this is it!
Thankfully there has been some amazing work carried out by the Wildlife Wing of the Himachal Pradesh Forest Department that could, and should, have a major impact on the control of monkeys throughout India.
Having heard of this potentially innovative work I felt it essential that I should personally access and evaluate the project for myself. I arranged a visit to Shimla to meet Dr. Sandeep Rattan, who along with Dr. Sushil Sood, was largely responsible for the project.
My expectations were low as every other project I have encountered regarding monkey control in India has proven to be ill thought-out and doomed to end in disaster (at least for the monkeys). How wrong I was. Never have I seen a project so well planned, organised and engineered as this one. Every little detail had been considered and the smooth handling of every aspect of project ensured that the monkeys suffered the minimum of stress.
I was simply amazed when I saw a female monkey sterilized in just one and a half minutes and that a male vasectomy took about the same time. It is easily possible for one small team to efficiently sterilize at least 60 monkeys in a day!
Basically the whole operation is run along these lines: a large trap is set up and the monkeys are fed in the
trap for a few days before the trap is sprung. Literally it is possible to trap a whole troop in one go although this is not always achieved and a few troop members may escape. As soon as the trap is sprung a cage is slotted onto a hatch door in the trap and the drop door opened and one or two monkeys dash into the cage in the vain attempt to escape. The cage is then immediately lifted up and put on a lorry and another cage is put in place. This continues until the whole troop is loaded – 60 monkeys can be loaded onto the lorry in less than an hour.
Once on the lorry, the monkeys are covered to reduce stress during the journey to the animal hospital. At the hospital the cages are unloaded and as they come off the lorry they are slid onto a hatch door so when the door is opened the monkeys dash out. They enter a row of cages with drop doors dividing them and the monkeys run through until stopped by a drop door and then another drop door is closed behind them which then means the next monkey can be unloaded. The system is simplicity itself and the important thing is that it means the monkeys are not handled by people at all and so the stress is minimised.
When all the monkeys are unloaded they are given a quick veterinary check to ensure there are no injured or sick monkeys. They are provided with water and then the door to the room is closed and the monkeys are left undisturbed so they can settle down overnight.
The next morning the monkeys are sterilised and again the system is smooth, efficient and professional. The monkey in the first pen has a door opened so it runs through into a crush cage where it is given an injection to anesthetise it. Whilst waiting for the injection to take effect it passes into another cage to permit the next monkey to be injected and so on.
Once unconscious they are shaved and prepared and then placed on the operating table. The vet makes a very small incision into the abdomen of the female monkeys and then a small rod about the size of a knitting needle is pushed in. Through this rod, gas is pumped in to inflate the abdomen and then a miniature TV camera permits the vet to carry out the sterilisation process. The rod is then removed and the monkey is put into the recovery room which is identical in every way to the pens into which they were first put. Male vasectomies are carried out in much the same way but obviously without the need to enter the abdomen.
After two days to recover, the monkeys are loaded back onto the lorry and returned to the area where they were caught. Any troop members that were not caught will still be nearby and the relief of seeing their troop members back is a cause for huge relief.
So far this innovative system has only been used on Rhesus Macaques but it would be equally effective with
Bonnet Macaques. Langurs may be more difficult to trap and some research needs to be carried out with this species to find the best method of catching troops; the main problem being that they are mainly tree dwellers.
The dog sterilization project known as ABC and subsidized by the Animal Welfare Board of India has [also] been hugely successful. This is not only in terms of numbers sterilized, but also due to visual public awareness because people in the areas where it is carried out can see immediately that the animal has been sterilized by the chip taken out of the ear. Therefore they can see the situation is being brought under control and concerns of ever increasing problems are overcome.
This same approach is vital when it comes to the sterilization of monkeys – the public need to see for themselves that the monkeys in their area have been sterilized and therefore know the situation will year on year get better, not worse. All the monkeys sterilized are clearly freeze branded for this very reason and to ensure time and money is not wasted trying to sterilize monkeys previously operated on.
Himachal’s monkey sterilization program has faced some scrutiny in past years. However, in Vrindavan where culling (ie. killing) monkeys is an unacceptable choice, sterilization may be the only viable option.
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