BY VISHAL GULATI
Shimla, April 10 (IANS) For the monkeys, it’s no more business as usual in Himachal Pradesh tourist resorts, for now.
In the absence of adequate food in the populated areas of the state capital and other popular destinations when close to 8.6 billion people staying indoors following the COVID-19 clampdown, the monkeys are no more dangling there.
They have, it appears, made a tactical retreat into the woods, till their predecessors win the war against the pandemic.
Wildlife officials say without tourists on the streets in most of the resorts, monkeys entered to nearby forests for the natural vegetation to forge.
Local residents are stunned by how they moved to the outskirts of cities and towns on their own.
Old-timers say in Shimla that the city hasn’t been rid of monkeys for decades. It is time to grow natural food in their habitat when the coronavirus is defeated so they could not return to the ‘concrete’ jungle.
Sandeep Rattan, Assistant Director with the Forest Department’s wildlife wing, has been monitoring three troupes of monkey in the Jakhu residential area of Shimla for quite some time.
“With the imposition of the city lockdown, there is a shortage of foodstuff in human wastes,” Rattan told IANS.
With the closure of restaurants, shops and temples and no humans on the streets, the monkeys have moved to nearby villages and forest areas where they are feeding on natural vegetation, he said.
Now only some dominant ones remain in town, wildlife veterinary surgeon Rattan said.
“We got reprieve from the marauding monkeys after a long, long time. We are praying they should not come back with the lockdown getting over,” octogenarian Ramesh Sud said, while pointing towards an iron grill erected outside his home to prevent straying of monkeys.
As per the last census conducted in 2015, Himachal Pradesh has a population of 2.07 lakh monkeys.
Barring Lahaul-Spiti district and some pockets in Kinnaur district, the state is in the grip of monkey menace as they have caused crop losses worth hundreds of crores of rupees in recent years.
As the religious sentiments prevent the people from kill the monkeys, their population is multiplying and their menace has increased manifold in cities and villages.
Marauding monkeys, prowling in gangs on streets of Shimla, Kasauli, Chail, Manali and other places create panic among residents and tourists. They have been causing havoc by biting passersby and snatching food.
Pictures of monkeys drinking from abandoned coke bottles and carrying food wrappers up into the trees are common once.
Officials say on an average at least 50 monkey bite cases are being reported every month in the Rippon Hospital in Shimla alone.
In Shimla’s localities like Jakhu, Tutikandi, Nabha, Phagli, Kaithu, Summer Hill, Tutu, Boileauganj, Chotta Shimla and Sanjauli, the residents have literally converted their houses into jails by erecting iron grills on the doors and windows to check the intrusion of monkeys.
Wildlife officials said over a decade-and-a-half ago monkeys were trapped from streets of Shimla and banished to the jungles — a technique to reduce their population.
But Rattan believes the translocation has not resolved the conflict rate, conversely such translocations shifted the problem to new areas instead of resolving the issue.
Activists working for the cause of farmers have been demanding the monkeys should either be eliminated professionally by hiring hunters or lifting the ban on the export of monkeys for bio-medical research to check their rising numbers.
The central government had banned the export of wild animals in 1978.
In written reply last month, Forest Minister Govind Thakur informed the assembly apart from monkey sterilization, the state has got the monkey declared as vermin in the most affected 91 tehsils and sub-tehsils of the state and within the Shimla Municipal Corporation.
He said for designing effective strategy of mitigating damage by monkeys, the population estimation of monkeys has been carried with the help of primate specialists from the Wildlife Institute of India and the Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural Historyin December 2019 and the estimation report is under preparation.
The habitat enrichment plantation scheme is being implemented across the state under which fruit bearing trees of different species are being planted in 10 adversely affected forests for providing natural food resource for the monkeys and other wild animals so that they may not come over to agricultural fields.
Also, the Shimla Municipal Corporation has been requested to adopt effective waste management practices to help managing the conflict as throwing of waste specially food items lead to increase in the commensalism in monkeys, the minister said.
Commensalism refers to increased dependence of monkeys on human food.
Himachal Pradesh has declared nine species of wild animals as crop damaging animals.
They are the rhesus monkey, wild boar, blue bull, porcupine, jackal, chittal, sambar, hare and the parrot. All of them are protected under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972.
BY VISHAL GULATI