Huge billboards carrying warning on terror of monkeys and cautioning visitors against teasing or provoking them can be seen on the way to Shimla from Kalka. Hoardings have also been put up at several places in this tourist town listing out a number of do’s and don’ts when confronted with the simians who can be seen moving freely all over the residential areas, markets, roads or atop roofs and trees.
The nuisance and destruction caused by monkeys is a serious problem facing many parts of Himachal Pradesh, including Shimla. So much so that major political parties promised steps to end the menace in their poll manifestoes in the Assembly elections. The issue has also come up for debates at Assembly sessions very often.
With forests being cleared with aplomb to pave way for construction, the monkeys have become an essential part of the urban eco system and villages where they destroy fruits, vegetables and other crops. According to Deputy Mayor of Shimla and former president of Kisan Sabha, Tikender Singh Panwar, crops worth Rs. 2,000 crore are lost every year due to destruction caused by monkeys. In fact, farmers in the State had sought permission to kill the monkeys and in 2010, 259 permits were issued. Fifteen monkeys were killed by six farmers from November 1 to December 5 in the same year; the permission, however, was challenged in the court, which put on hold the permission in January 2011.
The residents of Shimla, especially women and children, find it difficult to move around freely. In many residential areas, people have put up grills around their houses because of the monkey menace. Last year, in a letter to the State’s Chief Wildlife Warden, the Shimla Nagrik Sabha had sought immediate intervention. According to the State’s Forest Department, 1,400 people have been injured in monkey attacks from 2004-2005 till December last year and a compensation of Rs. 65,51,753 has been paid to the victims. Monkey attack victims are paid Rs. 5,000 for simple injury and Rs. 33,000 for grievous injuries.
As per the monkey census 2004, there were over 3.17 lakh monkeys across Himachal Pradesh and over 36,000 monkeys in Shimla alone. However, there are no official figures of their current population which according to some estimates may have doubled. To control their growing number, the government began sterilisation of the monkeys from 2007 and since then 65,000 sterilisations have been carried out. The State budget for 2013-14 presented some time ago mentioned proposals to open six new monkey sterilisation centres. Under the existing norms, the sterilised monkeys are released in the areas from where they were captured.
According to a former Advisor (Forestry, WL&NR) of the State government, Vinay Tandon, a Primate Protection Park had been set up in Taradevi near Shimla in 2007-08. The idea was to gradually inhabit the monkeys there by first keeping them in small cages, then bigger ones and later in open cages and feed them twice a day at fixed timings. This was done to ensure that the monkeys would slowly get used to staying in the area and would not go astray. However, the park was shut down after six to eight months.
The government is now thinking of setting up monkey parks and according to Forest Department sources some plans in this direction are in the pipeline. The Shimla Municipal Corporation, too, sent a proposal in March to the Forest Department and the government to set up shelters for the monkeys in Shimla forests.
According to The DFO Shimla M.C. Inder Kumar, the corporation has identified forest area of around one hectare for the setting up of the shelter which he says will be fenced and fruit trees, vegetables will be grown for the monkeys . The proposal can be implemented only after the government gives its nod.
However, Mr. Panwar says that similar efforts earlier have failed. He says that as a long-term measure, the Centre should lift the ban on the export of monkeys. He also says that the process of sterilisation should be put on fast track.