Irinchayam residents live in fear of simians descending from Thiruchittoor Hill

A.S. Subash, 34, a mason, watched the rain abate with apparent dread. He scanned the tops of rubber trees and coconut palms surrounding his hutment. Not a branch swayed or leaf rustled in the early-morning silence.

On Sunday, there seemed to be no sign of the large troops of marauding wild monkeys that have become a bane of residents in suburban Irinchayam in Nedumangad taluk. “Rain helps keep them away. But they will arrive when the sun is out,” he says.

Uprooted tapioca plants, chewed banana flowers, ripped-open coconuts, and displaced roof tiles testified to the devastation caused by the monkeys the previous day. Dreading the wild creatures, Mr. Subash's sister Sobhana shifted residence to another neighbourhood.

Many others are following suit, says their neighbour P. Omana, 62.

She says parents fear to leave their children unattended at home. The monkeys break into houses, soil bedspreads, and raid kitchens. They excrete into drinking-water wells, break clotheslines, and television cables. Monkeys, wounded in the riotous fights among themselves for food, mates, and territory, often crawl into houses to die.

Jayachandran, secretary of the local branch of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), says the monkeys have upped the cost of living in Irinchayam. Many residents have had to take anti-rabies and tetanus injections after being scratched or bitten by monkeys.

A 200-metre-high and several-hectare-wide forested rock formation, Thiruchittoor Hill, which overlooks the village, is home to more than 500 bonnet macaques.

Mr. Jayachandran says the monkey population abounded after the rock became a pilgrimage spot a few years ago.

Visitors treat the monkeys with reverence and pamper them with cooked food. The adaptive creatures have hence developed a taste for things human and they raid the village, he says.

The residents demand that the government trap the monkeys and relocate them to the forest just 15 km away. They have moved the Lokayukta for this purpose.

Arun Zachariah, Forest Veterinary Officer, says sterilisation of dominant males and matriarchal females of the pack will help reduce the monkey population and the intensity of the menace they pose to human habitation. The younger members of the tribe can be trapped and relocated.

The Forest Department says it has requested the grama panchayat to help it set up a sterilisation and rehabilitation centre for monkeys. It has ordered for trap cages, tranquillizers, surgical equipment, and medicines. Till the much-awaited trappers finally arrive, the “divine” monkeys of Thiruchittoor Hill seem at will to roam free and raid the hamlet below their domain.