When Delhi’s Deputy Mayor S. S. Bajwa died in 1997 due to head injuries following a fall from the terrace of his house after an attack by monkeys, it brought to the fore the issue of monkey menace that haunts the Capital.
In the same year, the Delhi High Court had set up an enforcement committee to deal with this growing menace. In its report, the committee had suggested trapping of monkeys from inhabited areas and their relocation at Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary. The Court then directed the civic agencies to catch the simians, mostly rhesus monkeys, and ordered the Delhi Government to relocate them.
The Municipal Corporation of Delhi then approached the Court claiming that it did not possess the trained manpower to handle the monkeys and asked the Court to direct the Delhi Government’s Forests and Wild Life Department instead to catch them. The Delhi Government in its submission said it was the responsibility of the civic body to catch the monkeys. The High Court ruled that the civic agencies would continue to catch the monkeys, while the Delhi Government would rehabilitate them in Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary on the southern periphery of the city. The Wildlife Department is required to provide the knowhow and cages. Chief Conservator of Forest and Chief Wildlife Warden A. K. Shukla said prior to this Delhi had also tried contacting other States for rehabilitating its monkeys. “We had sent some of them to Bahraich in Uttar Pradesh and to Madhya Pradesh. But the States were reluctant to have them on the grounds that ‘they are carriers of rabies’ and the disease may spread into the wildlife. Then we suggested that we will keep them in rescue shelters and took back a few consignments.”
Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forest G. N. Sinha said the Delhi Government has been accommodating the monkeys from all over the city at Asola Bhatti. “To ensure the right ambience for them, the Territorial Army looks after the entire area, and fruit and leafy trees that can survive in the Ridge profile have been planted. A five-year period has been provided for raising them.”
Mr. Shukla said: “We have constructed 30 platforms for feeding them there (in the sanctuary) and about Rs.20 lakh per annum is being spent on arranging their food. There is also a contract with Azadpur Subzi Mandi to provide vegetables and fruits at reasonable rates.”
The wildlife officials believe that since due to the availability of sufficient food and safe environment the population of monkeys would grow manifold in the sanctuary and then may spill over into surrounding colonies, it was essential to introduce some population control programme.
“Sterilisation or tubectomy has not been found to be successful with monkeys as they open the wounds and so we are exploring the possibility of discussing with Wildlife Institute of India, Dehra Dun, if some oral contraceptives are available for them,” an official said.
Mr. Sinha said Delhi is also facing the problem of having few monkey catchers. “They are paid Rs.250-Rs.300 per catch and these days it is not a big amount.”
He said the Delhi Government is also running a “rescue shelter” at Rajokri where the simians are provided treatment and vaccination before they are relocated at the sanctuary.
The Wildlife Department is hoping that more emphasis would be laid on restricting the number of monkeys soon as after a point they would come in conflict with nearby human habitations. As of now it even lacks a veterinary doctor of its own; the lone post has been lying vacant.
It also believes that their population control was essential for maintaining a balance between primates and secondary species. “A sanctuary is meant for a variety of animal and plant species. The monkeys are ‘outside species’ for the area and their dominance would also disturb the food cycle,” said Mr. Sinha.