Monkeys are proving to be a growing menace in rural and urban areas of Telangana State. The Rhesus macaque, a common sight across the country, especially in hill stations and temple towns, has become a cause of concern in Telangana villages, as they raid crops and attack humans. Cities aren’t spared too, and instances of monkeys chasing and attacking tourists and devotees aren’t rare.
Conventional methods such as fixing traps and sterilisation have not yielded desired results and the problem has only worsened in recent times. Continuing destruction of their natural habitat has been a major factor, with the simians now attacking and destroying crops in several regions.
According to even conservative estimates, monkey raids are responsible for 15-20% of crop loss in Telangana.
And now, the State has come up with a novel initiative to curb the menace - Monkey Food Courts. Conceptualised by Chief Minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao, the project aims to provide a “buffet of sorts” for the apes to feast on by planting a large number of fruit trees on the fringes of forests and inside them, so that the animals do not venture into fields and human habitations.
The idea has been integrated into the State government’s flagship project for mass afforestation, Telangana Ku Haritha Haram (Green garland for Telangana).
The Forest College and Research Institute (FCRI) has already started growing wild fruit-bearing trees on its premises at Mulugu village of Siddipet district, which falls within the purview of Chief Minister’s own constituency Gajwel.
FCRI was established in 2016 with the aim of promoting professional education and research in forestry and allied fields. Affiliated to the Sri Konda Laxman Bapuji Telangana State Horticultural University, the institution was allotted its own premises three years ago, and is nestled on 130 acres of verdant land. It is equipped with state-of-the-art facilities.
Work on the ‘wild fruit garden’ started in October 2022 through an initiative by Priyanka Varghese, an IFS officer who is the Dean of the institute.
“When the idea of Monkey Food Courts was conceptualised, the CM mentioned names of many of types of wild fruit favoured by the primates, several of which I heard for the first time. It had occurred to me then that the younger generation was even more unlikely to know them as the varieties are fast disappearing owing to overexploitation and forest degradation. Wild fruits are rich in nutrients and they should not be allowed to perish due to lack of awareness,” said Ms. Varghese, who is also Officer on Special Duty (Haritha Haram) in the Chief Minister’s Office.
The plan is to conserve at least 100 species of wild fruits favoured by monkeys and birds so that crop attacks by both creatures are minimised.
“Going forward, we would like to plant wild fruit varieties in the Palle Pragathi Vanams [forest blocks being developed in rural areas] instead of just fast-growing trees. We also have plans to establish nurseries for distribution of the seedlings,” Ms.Varghese shared.
The government is focusing on 75 wild-fruit species preferred by monkeys and birds. Of these, 20 species were suggested by Mr. Chandrashekhar Rao himself.
Seen planted on the FCRI campus, on small plots are varieties such as Mahua, Indian Bael, Elephant Apple, Wood Apple, Cluster Fig, Wild Jujube, Wild Mango, Gooseberry, several species of custard apple, Phalsa, Baheda, Mulberry, Tendu, Indian Cherry and many others, some of which are on the verge of extinction.
“We are procuring one- or two-year-old plants through nurseries across the State. I have personally visited the Kinnerasani Wildlife Sanctuary to find certain rare plants. Close to 10 varieties, including wild mango, are not easily available in the wild,” said B.Harish Babu, Assistant Professor (Agroforestry) of FCRI with specialisation in Silviculture, who is closely supervising the project.
Certain plants are procured from outside the State too, such as Kokum from Western Ghats. “It has culinary value equivalent to the tamarind. We procured it from Karnataka through a private nursery. The soil in our premises is fertile, and survival chances are high,” Dr.Harish shared.
Each species has been carefully chosen to provide a diverse range of flavours, nutritional profiles, and ecological benefits, paving the way for significant research opportunities for scientists, botanists and arborists.
In five to six years, when all the trees are grown, the genetic resources will be collected and used to expand the project, Dr. Harish said.