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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Telangana Is Struggling To Contain Primate Problem – And It's Not Monkey Business  

By RADHAKRISHNA | INNLIVE

The state has planned an afforestation drive and a rescue and rehab centre that it hopes will help contain the problem, but scepticism abounds.

On July 1, residents of Venkatapuram village in Telangana’s Mahbubnagar district found themselves under attack, their homes invaded, their property destroyed and their supplies taken away. The attackers in question were a group ofErra Kothulu which means red-faced monkeys, which is what the Indian rhesus macaque is called in these parts.

Lord Anjaneya or Hanuman, the monkey God, is worshiped widely by Hindus and religious beliefs stopped villagers from harming the monkeys, but the primates had no such inhibitions. They reportedly bit at least 20 villagers who subsequently had to be vaccinated. “We keep these vaccines handy as such incidents have become routine,” a doctor at the government hospital in the nearby Deverakonda town, where the villagers were treated, told Scroll.in. “In 2015, four children and three women died of monkey bites.”

Scrambling for a way out, last year, 400 families of the village raised Rs 1 lakh to pay monkey-catchers. A year before that, they had paid to bring in Grey Langurs to scare the Erra Kothulu away. But the langur-keepers of Maharashtra jacked up the rates to Rs 10,000 per animal for five days, making this unviable, local leaders said.

This so-called monkey menace in Telangana has prompted the state government to hunt for solutions.

In May, the government ordered the setting up of a monkey rescue and rehabilitation centre at the cost of Rs 2.21 crore in Chincholi, Adilabad district as a pilot project. And in July, the state’s chief minister, K Chandrashekhar Rao, launched the Haritha Haram tree plantation project in the state, which, he said, would bring back rain and send monkeys back [to forest areas] by replenishing the state’s green cover.

Simian troubles:
Experts say that monkeys foray into towns and villages more during the monsoon.

Senior forest officer AV Joseph had advised undivided Andhra Pradesh government three years ago (Telangana was carved out of Andhra in 2014) to design monkey shelters for the monsoon, so that the primates could be provided shelter and food until the forests were back in bloom. “This is a natural phenomenon,” Joseph had told the media earlier this month. “The way people migrate for livelihood during drought and famine, monkeys also wander out of their habitats in hillocks in search of food,” he said.

The problem has assumed such serious proportions in parts of the state that in remote areas adjoining forests in Karimnagar, Chintur and Warangal districts, armed police or private security guards escort milk vans and carts carrying toddy, a kind of liquor tapped from palm trees, as these are targeted by monkeys.
It’s common to sight signboards in villages in these areas advising visitors about the danger of monkeys and advising not to flash their eatables and water bottles outdoors.

“We have seen many visitors, including children, attacked by monkeys for keeping biscuits or bread and bananas exposed in their bags,” Ramalinga Reddy, the village head of Mahboobabad in Warangal district, told INNLIVE.

The problem is also more acute in areas that have seen heavy deforestation for road laying, irrigation and mining projects. With dense forests denuded, the highly adaptable primate that has been robbed of its habitat and source of food ventures into human settlements.

Growing population:
Forest officials say that the monkey population in the state has risen steadily over the last decade. In Hyderabad alone, the population has come up from 2,000 monkeys in 2015 to 3,100 today, according to municipal sources. In Telangana, forest officials estimate the monkey population to be about 22,000.

“The monkey menace plaguing urban areas of Telangana is unlikely to abate in the foreseeable future,” said Telangana Environment and Forests minister Jogu Ramanna. This is because there aren’t enough people trained in trapping monkeys and no infrastructure to house and sterilise monkeys, he said.

The state hopes to change this. The rescue and rehabilitation centre in Chincholi is part of a wider project for which the government has sanctioned Rs 10 crore. In the first phase, hundreds of iron cages and food and sterilisation equipment will be set up at the centre. Monkeys that are caught from towns and villages will be brought to the centre, sterilised and then released in the deep forest . Veterinarians will be present at the centre and the forest department is consulting specialists from Argentina and Brazil where the monkey menace was contained with scientific methods.

The afforestation scheme, Haritha Haram, is a Rs50-crore project to plant hundreds of acres of fruit orchards along with timber and fodder to increase the forest cover from the present 24% of the state to 33% in two years.

The government believes that with their food sources replenished, monkeys will stay within these orchards and forested land and won’t enter human habitations.
But scepticism abounds even within the state’s forest department on whether this plan will work. “When we cannot keep elephants and leopards contained within forests, how can we keep monkeys, who are known for ingenious ways to escape even from cages?” asked a official from the state forest department who wished to remain anonymous. He said that keeping monkeys in cages has invited public ire in the past, and is likely to do so again, which is why the cages at the centre will only be used for sterilisation, after which the primates will be allowed to wander around the plantation.

Culling debate:
The Ministry of Environment and Forests last year issued several notifications allowed the culling of certain animals that states could declare as “vermin” under the Wildlife Protection Act. Culling can be allowed in cases where damage to people, crops or property is considered to be very high owing to the man-animal conflict.

The culling debate took centre stage last month, after BJP minister Maneka Gandhi, an animal activist, lashed out at the environment ministry, then under Prakash Javadekar, after 200 nilgai were culled in Bihar.

Telangana recently declared wild boar as vermin.

However, the religious sentiment attached to monkeys rules out such an approach.

“We have a monkey problem, but we don’t want to hurt the sentiments of people by declaring it as ‘vermin’ or seeking their elimination,” said Telangana Forest minister Jogu Ramanna.

“Monkeys have a sacred place in Hindu mythology,” pointed out Tridandi Chinna Srimannarayana Ramanuja Chinnar Jeeyar Swamy, the noted spiritual leader who had campaigned against caging monkeys in zoos and in research institutes for scientific studies. “Monkeys are worshipped in some temples of Rajasthan and Telangana.”

Even though the state has chosen the rescue-and-rehabilitation route, animal rights’ activists caution that monkeys should not be harmed under the guise of such schemes.
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