SHIMLA: The Himachal Pradesh government’s monkey business is not going well. It hasn’t even taken off, in fact, because the regulated culling of monkeys in areas where they had been declared vermin could not take place. As a result, the tenure in which culling could have taken place in areas under the Shimla Municipal Corporation and 38 other tehsils expired in the third week of December.

At a recent conclave of farmers, participants told this reporter that in several areas the farmers had simply given up their vocation of agriculture and horticulture – because the monkeys destroy their entire produce.

Fresh reports say the authorities have sought the renewal of permission to cull in these areas, along with a nod for 53 other tehsils, to eliminate the simians. With a mere five monkeys officially culled last year, the move to get them declared vermin has so far failed in its purpose.

Meanwhile, the farmers who are the worst affected by the monkey menace are left high and dry, even as residents and tourists in several towns and cities like Shimla continue to face the terror of simians unchecked.

The pertinent question is why regulated culling was not performed even after the simians had been declared vermin. The answer lies in the next question: who was supposed to kill the monkeys?

Kisan Sabha leader Kuldeep Tanwar said, “We are of the view that a common man cannot shoot and does not have the capacity to bear the high cost of ammunition. Even with farmers who have licensed arms, how do you expect a person to go out killing monkeys when he has not lifted his gun for the last three decades, since hunting was banned?”

According to Tanwar “the answer lies in formation of a squad of trained shooters and ex-servicemen who will carry out culling under the supervision of experts from the forest department.”

Forest department officials pointed out that despite the promise of an honorarium of Rs 500 for killing one monkey, the culling never happened. This is because of the religious sentiments attached to monkeys, as many associate them with the monkey god Hanuman, and people’s fear of being ostracised if they start killing the monkeys.

“Our mandate is that of ‘protection and conservation’ of wildlife, and we cannot indulge in killing any animal,” a forest department official said.

Sources added that farmers were encouraged to kill the monkeys by mass poisoning, and this did happen ‘unofficially’.

“You don’t have to shoot, only create an enclosure where no other animal enters except monkeys and poison them. This even helps prevent the death of wild dogs who won’t end up consuming the carcass of poisoned monkeys. But people’s participation is a must in the whole process,” the official added.

The second way to deal with the simian menace is to go in for mass sterilisation. This has been going on in the state for the past decade. Experts claim it has depleted the monkey population in the state, which reports say declined from 2.26 lakh in 2013 to 2.07 lakh in 2015.

This census was carried out in 83 forest ranges spread over 27,276 square kilometers in the state. The monkey population reportedly stood at 3.17 lakh in 2004. This would mean it has declined by a third in 10 years.

Dr Sandeep Rattan, who is an expert on this intervention, said that sterilisation mainly targets female monkeys. “It is a just a two-minute procedure carried out through laparoscopic method and is fool proof,” he said.

He pointed out that fears that the simian population would be wiped out are baseless; their reproduction dynamics are such that their population can always be regained.

The impact of the sterilisation intervention has been less in the last decade because the target was just around 30 percent – while one third of the population was sterilised the offspring of the rest became full grown.

Experts like Rattan feel the sterilisation target should be at least 70 percent of the population, and it will have to be carried out for another decade for there to be a major population drop.

“We need innovations in capturing the monkeys as they recognise both our vehicles and our staff. One shriek by a simian and everyone flees,” Rattan disclosed.

In the last couple of years there have been talks of creating an eco task force for culling the monkeys, and establishing a huge enclosure for the monkeys, but nothing has come out of it.

“These are just time buying tactics of governments. The crux of the matter is that they are not serious in tackling the issue, and instead busy in their propaganda,” alleged Kuldeep Tanwar.

Besides destroying the farm produce the monkeys have become a terror for the people, and there are many places where people, particularly the aged, and women and children cannot venture out alone. In places like Shimla monkeys snatching bags and eatables from pedestrians is a very common sight.

The Municipal Corporation has put up boards instructing people not to offer anything to the monkeys and not to stare at them.

In 2004, the feeding of monkeys in public places except temple premises was prohibited within Shimla municipal limits. Experts said this needs to be applied in other parts of the state as well.

Besides destroying crops and biting people, the simians are known to contaminate drinking water in storage tanks and thereby transmit diseases.

They also tear clothes put out for drying, snap telephone and electricity wires, TV cables, dish antennas, broadband wires and also break streetlights, vehicle wipers and rearview mirrors. The simians are also responsible for causing dents on the roofs of parked cars by jumping on them.

Social activists have been pointing out that a long term solution needs to be put in place to tackle the problem.

They say that the practice of rounding up the monkeys from urban areas and dumping them elsewhere is pointless, because it only leads to a new area falling prey to the monkey menace.

Some of them say the government should plant fruit trees in forest areas, so that the simians are not drawn to human habitats for food.

(Cover Photograph Indian Express)