Is culling the solution to Shimla's monkey business?
Unable to tackle the menace of monkeys in the erstwhile British capital of Shimla, the Himachal Pradesh government has managed to get them declared vermin by the Centre for a period of six months. The state government had sent a request to the The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change in September last year. The declaration of simians as vermin in Shimla's municipal limits will pave the way for their culling. How this is carried out remains to be seen.
The state government has reportedly asked the centre to declare monkeys as vermin in 39 other tehsils in 10 of the 12 districts of Himachal Pradesh. The proposal in this regard was sent a fortnight back after the issue of monkey menace was debated in the state assembly.
The centre had declined the request for declaring the simians in Shimla vermin last year and had asked the state to carry out a census before any conclusion on tackling the menace could be arrived at.
There are reports of 296 persons, including many children and the aged, falling victim to monkey bites in the last three years in Shimla and a sum of Rs 19.74 lakh being disbursed to the victims by the authorities. The number for the entire state stands at 674 with compensation amounting to Rs 28 lakh till September last year.
Monkeys have become a terror for the people of the state. The situation is worse in places like Shimla, Palampur and Mandi towns where people, especially children, cannot venture out safely. Monkeys snatching bags and eatables from pedestrians are a common sight in the tourist destination of Shimla.
Though locals are aware of not carrying eatables openly, it is quite often that the tourists that are frequented by the aggressive monkeys. The Municipal Corporation has specially put up boards instructing the people not to offer anything to the monkeys. They are also told not to stare at them.
In 2004, feeding of monkeys in public places except temple premises, was prohibited within Shimla municipal limits. The same is not applicable in other parts of the state.
In rural areas, monkeys are being credited with destroying the agriculture and horticulture produce, leaving farmers helpless.
Monkeys becoming a nuiscance
The state government has apprised the centre that besides destroying crops and biting people, the monkeys also contaminate drinking water in storage tanks and thereby transmit diseases. They also pick up articles at random from urban premises, tear clothes, snap telephone and electricity wires, TV cables, dish antennas, broad band wires and more. The simians have also been breaking street lights, vehicle window wipers, rear view mirrors besides creating dents on the roof of parked vehicles by jumping on them.
The sterilisation drive carried out by the forest department through its nine sterilisation centres has proved to be no deterrent to the attacks by the monkeys. This, despite thousands having been sterilized over the last several years. The state government pointed that though the sterlisation programme has been running successfully since 2006-07 and more than 51 per cent of the estimated population of the macaques in the state have been sterilised. Even so, there is a need to eliminate the monkeys by culling.
It said that monkey management has become the most challenging task for the wildlife wing of the forest department with the simian population standing at 2,07,614 till 2015.
The other dsitricts
Apart from Shimla, the state government has now sought declaration of he simians as vermin in seven tehsils of Kangra district, five each of Una, Bilaspus and Sirmaur along with 17 other tehsils that have been identified as monkey hotspots with a very high simian concentration. These 17 other tehsils include Sundernagar in Mandi, four tehsils of Shimla and Chamba districts besides three tehsils in Kullu including the popular tourist destinations of Manali, Sainj and Kullu.
Sources in the forest department however point out that there is a long way to go before the scientific culling of simians actually starts in Shimla. "The very first hurdle is a legal one. We will have to seek legal opinion on how to deal with the matter of granting shooting permits for killing monkeys on which there is a stay by the Himachal Pradesh High Court. The rules otherwise say that anyone can kill a vermin if the animal poses a threat to his or her life in an area other than the forest. The shooting permit was earlier being given by the office of the Chief Wildlife Warden," said a senior officer.
Culling as a solution?
He further disclosed that the people have to be clearly told that the culling has to be done by them and it is not the government that would be killing the monkeys for them. "Many people attribute religious importance to monkeys. It remains to be seen how many of them would come forward to actually cull them. Its all a matter of awareness. The people in Sirmour had killed around 200 monkeys around a decade back when permits had been issued to them," he disclosed.
Some of the social activists also say that while the government needs to undertake long term measures, culling is the need of the hour as the monkeys are a grave threat to people at several places. " A person working at a roadside stall lost his life after being bitten last year. The monkeys are carriers of rabies and the children are the most vulnerable to their bites. There seems to be no alternative as sterilisation has failed to check the attacks on humans," said Sukhdev Vishwapremi, a prominent social activist who has been working on environmental issues.
He pointed, " Rounding them up and dumping them away from human population is no solution. Culling is also not a permanent solution. We had suggested to the government that it should go in for wild fruit cultivation in the forest areas on a large scale so that the monkeys remain confined to the wild areas and do not come towards human habitat. Long term measures need to be initiated right now."
Edited by Sahil Bhalla